Bill Worthen’s enthusiasm for Arkansas history and preservation is palpable.
A son of one of Arkansas’ most notable pioneering families, Worthen has been the director of the Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM) for the past 40 years. During his lengthy tenure, he’s overseen the restoration, reconstruction and interpretation of significant historic buildings on HAM’s campus, including the Plum Bayou Log House, the Brownlee lot and Log House, and the William E. Woodruff print shop. He’s also published numerous articles and books on the subject of Arkansas history, including works on the bowie knife, the Arkansas Traveler and the Little Rock. He says he’s most proud of the two-volume study he did with Swannee Bennett on Arkansas’ creative legacy: Arkansas Made.
On January 11, at the Governor’s Mansion, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (HPAA) will honor Worthen with the Parker Westbrook Lifetime Achievement Award for his preservation efforts in The Natural State.
Q: How long have you been involved with the HPAA?
A: I was honored to be at the organizing meeting of the Alliance at Trapnall Hall lo these many years ago. Parker Westbrook hosted the event.
Q: Why is the HPAA so vital to Arkansas and our communities?
A: Arkansas needs a citizen voice for historic preservation. Often the issues can only be logically considered in a regional or state context. The HPAA is a great partner with the state historic preservation program in helping to recognize the incredible value Arkansas has in its built environment. My mentor and pioneering preservationist Ed Cromwell always stressed the importance of the neighborhood, the environment in which we find ourselves. He and the HPAA have the same orientation, the strength of not just one historic structure here and another there, but the community in which they exist. Preservation can build neighborhoods and support commercial districts, and one way this is done is through the Preservation Tax Credit that the HPAA helped to pass.
Q: What have been some of your most significant preservation/Arkansas history-related accomplishments?
A: When I started, the historic house was a major constituency of the historic preservation movement. Much of my work here at the [Historic Arkansas] Museum has been on our historic houses, so I have been charged with honoring the principles and practices of historic preservation in their care. I had the pleasure of helping draft the first historic easement legislation in the state, and I served on the board of and have been an active volunteer with the Quapaw Quarter Association.
Q: What are some of your favorite historic buildings in Little Rock and Arkansas?
A: [My wife] Kathy and I live in a wonderful 1880s house in the Quapaw Quarter, which I’m proud to say has a Quapaw Quarter plaque. I love the houses here at HAM and the Old State House. The “new” County Courthouse has great public spaces…wait. What kind of question is that? There are so many great historic buildings in Arkansas I want to mention!
Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about historic preservation and the HPAA?
A: I think it’s good to be reminded that the ultimate green action is to use what you have — what better way to be sustainable and green than to reuse existing historic buildings. The HPAA can give us the tools to do just that.
Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas Preservation Awards
When: 6-9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 11
Where: Arkansas Governor’s Mansion
Tickets: $100 per person (Funds will benefit the Arkansas Preservation Foundation and the HPAA.)
Info: 372-4757, PreserveArkansas.org