Re-homing History: Saving the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House

When a house is listed, it usually means the owner is seeking a buyer. Sometimes, though, a house is listed because it needs a savior.

Little Rock’s stately Pike-Fletcher-Terry House is on this year’s Preserve Arkansas Most Endangered Places list. The Greek Revival residence, commonly referred to as simply The Terry House, was built in 1840 and was home to three notable families.

Suffering from years of deferred maintenance, the house has the history, the architecture and the urgency of need to make it a candidate for preservation, says Preserve Arkansas Executive Director Rachel Patton.

“Really it’s the state’s premier example of Greek Revival style architecture,” Patton says. “So it’s architecturally significant, and then it’s historically significant for the influential Arkansas families who occupied the house over the years.”

Preserve Arkansas was founded in 1981 and is the only nonprofit in the state advocating for the preservation of historic places in Arkansas.

The organization began its Most Endangered Places Program in 1999 to call attention to notable historic and cultural sites that were at risk of being damaged, demolished or simply lost to history. It’s modeled on the America’s 11 Most Endangered Places list, which was begun in 1987 and is announced each year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Arkansas’ Most Endangered Places list is updated annually, calling attention to the plight of historic structures and properties in order to spark interest, generate discussions and form strategies to preserve them.

Patton says the list includes structures and properties of all types “because we don’t just advocate for buildings, it’s all the built environment. Structures like bridges, park shelters, all kinds of historic properties. Cemeteries, archaeological sites. All these historic places around the state matter because they are reminders and tangible connections to our past.”

Individuals, communities or organizations can nominate properties for consideration. Criteria include the property’s significance — whether that’s local, statewide or national — the urgency and degree of the threat to the property and whether there is local support for preservation.

An annually rotating selection committee composed of board members, architects and historians evaluates the properties for their significance and composes the list.

If named to the list, the properties are prioritized for Preserve Arkansas’ advocacy efforts.

Along with The Terry House, this year’s list includes War Memorial Golf Course in Little Rock and the Dr. Robert George Williams House in Parkdale.

Credit: Maggie McLemore

The Terry House is situated on 12 lots in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. It was built by the opportunistic Massachusetts transplant Albert Pike, a teacher, poet, attorney, newspaperman, Confederate general and Mason.

Banker, cotton broker and former Little Rock mayor John G. Fletcher and his family bought the house in 1889. Of Fletcher’s three children, John Gould Fletcher Jr. became a poet and won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for his “Selected Poems” while daughter Adolphine married U.S. congressman David D. Terry and went on to become a force for local civil rights during the desegregation era.

An advocate for education and women’s rights, Adolphine Fletcher Terry used the home for a meeting of what became the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools to fight Governor Orval Faubus’ measure to close schools in 1958 to avoid desegregation. Terry also organized Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP) as a response to segregationists on the school board who fired teachers deemed too liberal on race, forcing a recall of three Faubus loyalists on the board and getting the schools opened.

Patton says the lineage of The Terry House occupants helps make it unique.

“I don’t think this is something that happens a lot, to have people in Arkansas that are this well known all occupy the same house,” Patton says. “Many times you might have multiple generations of the same family.”

Credit: Maggie McLemore

Credit: Maggie McLemore

The Terry House was also the home of the Arkansas Female College from 1873 to 1889. In 1964, Adolphine and her sister Mary Fletcher Drennan deeded the house to the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) and it went on to become the Decorative Arts Museum and the Arkansas Arts Center Terry House Community Gallery.

The gallery was closed in the last decade and The Terry House — vacant since, save for a handful of mostly outdoor events — needs around $1.5 million, Patton estimates, to combat water damage and foundation issues most apparent in the front porch, solarium and eaves.

The house has significant community support. The Friends of the Terry Mansion Facebook group has close to 1,000 followers, and letter-writing and social media campaigns have at least led to fence repair. With this listing, Preserve Arkansas is hoping to further raise awareness to enact emergency repairs and help find a sustainable use for the house.

“I don’t think this is something that happens a lot, to have people in Arkansas that are this well known all occupy the same house.”

Patton notes Preserve Arkansas success stories like the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, the Rohwer Japanese-American Relocation Center in Desha County, downtown Hot Springs, the Perry Rock Island Railroad Depot and Little Rock’s Woodruff School.

Of course, sometimes the organization or money can’t be pulled together. Patton mourns the loss of the Clarendon Bridge in Monroe County and says the heavily damaged Centennial Baptist Church in Helena only has an outside chance of being saved at this point.

“That’s tough,” she says. “Whenever you work really hard and a community spends so much time working and it’s still lost. That’s tough, but it does happen.”

Patton says Preserve Arkansas sets out to maintain buildings’ characteristic features while including modern materials and conveniences. It doesn’t necessarily matter if a one-time home or train depot or church is utilized for a different purpose — becoming a school, library or museum, for example.

As long as the structure has use, Preserve Arkansas has succeeded.

“We want historic properties to be occupied and used and lived in,” Patton says. “That’s the important thing, that they’re in use.”

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