Only six people took advantage of an opportunity Saturday morning to learn about the Hamburg Commercial Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March of this year.
Rachel Silva, preservation outreach coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, was in Hamburg to lead the tour and present information about the historic district as well as various other buildings around the historic district. She based her information on interviews in Hamburg and period records, including the Sanborn Company Maps. Those maps, prepared for the insurance industry, provide descriptions of the materials used in construction and the types of business located on each lot, though not identifying the owner of the business. The maps served as a basis for determining rates for fire insurance for the various buildings. She used Sanborn maps from 1908, 1914, 1921 and 1938 to help in identifying the construction materials and types of business in the various locations.
All of the information below is from Silva’s presentation to those who took part in the tour.
The Hamburg Commercial Historic District contains 24 buildings and one site, the town square. Of the 25 resources, 15 (62%) contribute to the historic significance of the district. The Ashley County Library on East Lincoln St. is the only building constructed outside of the period of significance (less than 50 years old—1961), and most of the remaining nine non-contributing buildings have been altered through the application of aluminum or other non-historic material to their upper facades.
Brief History of Hamburg
Hamburg is the county seat of Ashley County. Ashley County was formed from parts of Chicot, Drew, and Union Counties in 1848 as Arkansas's 53rd county. It was named for Chester Ashley, who was the third Arkansan elected to the U.S. Senate and a prominent figure in territorial and antebellum Arkansas. Ashley County is part of both the Mississippi Alluvial and West Gulf Coastal plains, so soil in the eastern Delta region of the county is conducive to growing cotton, rice, and soybeans; while the western part of the county is upland forest, becoming home to one of the largest industrial enterprises in Arkansas-the Crossett Lumber Company, which would later become Georgia-Pacific Corp. (Crossett incorporated in 1903 & GP acquired Crossett Lumber Co. in 1962). Agriculture dominated the county economy in the early 20th century. However, most small-time farmers have been forced to sell out to larger, more efficient, commercial operations, and GP is now the county's largest employer.
Hamburg was platted in 1849 to be the county seat just months after the creation of Ashley County. The site was chosen in part because the legislation organizing the county required that the county seat be located within five miles of the county's geographic center, easily accessible for everyone.
There is some debate as to how Hamburg got its name, but it was most likely named after Hamburg, Germany, by German immigrants settling in the region. [The town of Berlin is located in southern Ashley County, and there is also a Hamburg, Georgia, and a Hamburg, Alabama, indicating the Germans' westward settlement patterns.] Another local tale is that a large deer had been killed, and someone looked at the carcass and said, "Look at those hams! Let's name the town Hamburg." Not likely… Hamburg was incorporated on December 14, 1854.
Hamburg was platted in a grid pattern around a central courthouse square (now the town square). Three different county courthouses have stood in the town square, and although the last Ashley County Courthouse was demolished in the late 1960s, the town square remains the hub of the downtown business area. The current Ashley County Courthouse was built in 1969 off the square. The first courthouse was a log building constructed in 1849. The second courthouse was completed in 1905 and was built on the same site as the first courthouse on the town square. This two-story brick building was destroyed by fire in 1921. The third courthouse was built in 1923, but the three-story brick building was demolished in the late 1960s and the current courthouse was built two blocks to the northeast. The WP A Guide to 1930s Arkansas described the third courthouse as a "three-story buff-brick courthouse in the middle of the town square, fenced by low iron pickets."
The arrival of the railroad revolutionized transportation in Ashley County and Hamburg. The Mississippi River, Hamburg & Western Railroad was completed in 1899 and connected Hamburg to the major north-south route of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, Lake Village, and the Mississippi River. A line of the Mississippi River, Hamburg & Western was extended from Hamburg to Crossett in 1903. Finally, the Arkansas, Louisiana & Gulf Railroad was completed in 1908 connecting Hamburg and Monroe, Louisiana. Hamburg prospered until the 1920s, but when the highway system replaced rails as the main mode of transportation, the Arkansas, Louisiana & Gulf RR became unprofitable and was forced to close. According to Sanborn maps, the line was out of operation as early as 1921, and the tracks and depot had been removed by 1938. The Mississippi River, Hamburg & Western RR (later part of the Iron Mountain system, which became Missouri-Pacific in 1917) met a similar fate and closed in recent years.
100 Block of North Mulberry Street (East side of Town Square)
Sawyer's Steak House (100 N. Mulberry)
According to Sanborn maps, there has been a drug store on this site since at least 1908. The building was home to Sawyer Drug Store, thus the name of Sawyer's Steak House now. Keep in mind that the same buildings have not necessarily been here the entire time-there was a fire on the east side of the square in 1910, and it destroyed three frame buildings, but they were quickly rebuilt with brick. The Sawyer's building dates to about 1910 and retains a virtually unaltered storefront with a recessed center door and plate glass windows. The building also features decorative cast iron pilasters and a peaked parapet. You can still read the "Mesker Bros. Storefronts, St. Louis" logo on the cast iron pilasters.
Manufactured by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Mo., and the George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Ind., a "Mesker" is a late-1800s to early-1900s building that features elements ranging from storefront columns and cornices to entire facades made of the galvanized steel and cast iron construction. The Mesker brothers were once the largest distributors of these storefront components. Meskers are located all across America, especially in small towns, since the Mesker brothers targeted them (catalog ordering). There were once about 45,000 buildings with Mesker components across the U.S., but they are being demolished and neglected, so the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency launched the Mesker project in 2006 in order to try to document buildings with Mesker components. Visit the website at www.gotmesker.com to learn more about the project.
Remainder of 100 block of N. Mulberry (east side of square)
The rest of the buildings along the east side of the square are non-contributing to the district because of alterations to their facades; however,
Margie's Consignment Shop (102 N. Mulberry)
This building was constructed circa 1910, but a dry goods store was here in 1908. From at least 1914 until 1938, there was a bank here.
Video Plus (104 N. Mulberry)
This building was also built circa 1910. There was a grocery store located here from at least 1908 until 1938.
Deborah Bays, CPA (106 N. Mulberry)
There was a clothing store in this location by 1908 and then a shoe store & millinery by 1914. This building was home to Charlie Carpenter's clothing store at one time. By 1921, it housed a drug store.
La Azteca (108 N. Mulberry)
This building was home to a dry goods store from at least 1908 to 1921, but it became a printing shop by 1938. This was the office of the Ashley County Leader newspaper.
Old appliance store with green facade (110 N. Mulberry)
From at least 1908 until 1921, these two storefronts housed a dry goods and grocery store. In recent memory, this was home to Sterling's Drug Store.
U.S. Post Office (203 E. Adams)
The Post Office is contributing to the district and was built in 1937 as part of the U.S. Treasury's governmental building program during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. The building was designed by Louis A. Simon, the U.S. Treasury's supervising architect responsible for the design of many federal post offices constructed during that era. It exhibits Federal style architecture in its symmetrical facade; distinctive central door with pediment, columns, sidelights, and eagle medallion in the fanlight above the door; and cupola on the roof. The close rake eaves (little overhang) reflect the minimal detail used on buildings in the late 1930s reflecting the Minimal Traditional style.
Before the post office was constructed, there were various commercial buildings located on this block, including a restaurant, barber, bakery, photographer, pool hall, and drug store.
Ashley County Courthouse (outside the district boundary)
The land for the current Ashley County Courthouse was donated in 1967 by the Hamburg Junior Chamber of Commerce. The building was completed in 1969 and designed in the Modern/International style by the architectural firm of Renshaw and Taylor. The Sanborn maps show the entire courthouse block as J. B. Bunn's Survey from 1914 until 1938. There was a large dwelling with several outbuildings there. Just to the west of the courthouse building was the Hamburg Cotton Gin Co. for many years.
100 Block of East Adams Street (North side of the square)
Foote's Super Drug (111 E. Adams)
Foote's Super Drug is non-contributing to the district because of the metal on its upper facade. However, the building was constructed about 1911, and it appears that it was a two-story building, so an upper level was removed at some point as well. On the 1908 Sanborn map, this was a general store with an opera house on the second floor. By 1914, a grocery store was on the first floor, and a skating rink was on the second floor. In 1921, it's listed as general merchandise, but still had a balcony in the back. In recent memory, Foote's was home to Kroger and Law's.
Super 10 (109 E. Adams)
The Super 10 Building is contributing to the district. It's a good example of the early 20th century standard commercial style with its brick corbeling, decorative vents, and covered transom windows. The Super 10 Building was home to a general store and grocery from at least 1908 to 1921. In recent memory, the east storefront was Carpenter's Style Shop, and the west storefront was where Carpenter's Furniture (also had a jewelry store for awhile) started.
Shawn Hickman, CPA (105 E. Adams)
The Shawn Hickman building is also contributing to the district with its simple brick corbeling, decorative vents, and covered transom windows. This building was a grocery and dry goods store from at least 1908 until 1938, with Dew's Grocery being the occupant in recent memory.
Harrison's (103 E. Adams)
Harrison's is non-contributing to the district because of the wood shingle awning on the building's upper facade. It was built about 1911 and the east storefront housed offices, while the west storefront housed a general store. The building still has an upstairs balcony section in the rear and multiple skylights, not visible from the first floor. Renovations have also revealed a beautiful interior arched transom window. For many years, the east storefront was home to Harrison's Jewelry, and the west side was Nutter's Dept. Store.
Harrod Law Offices (101 E. Adams)
The Harrod Law Office is the most high-style building in the Hamburg Commercial Historic District. It was built in 1919 as the date on the parapet indicates. The Classical Revival-style building features an arched fanlight above the front door and multi-paned windows. Pilasters with Classical capitals adorn the buildings southern and western elevations, and the peaked parapet adds distinction to the building as well. There has been a bank at this location since at least 1914, and this was the long-time home of Farmers Bank, which has since moved to a new building across Main Street.
Northwest Corner of Adams and N. Main
Concrete block building (205 N. Main Street)
This building is contributing in the district because although it is currently boarded, it is largely unaltered. It was built about 1947 and served as an auto supply shop.
LaGrone Drugs (201 N. Main Street)
The LaGrone Drug Store is contributing in the district with its beveled corner entry, zipper brick work, brick corbeling, and decorative vents. Transom windows used to be above the storefront. The building was constructed about 1917 as a grocery and barber shop. It was later Miss Annie Crane's Hat Shop, a shoe repair shop, and another grocery store. It has been LaGrone Drug Store for about 40 years.
Masonic Lodge on West Adams
The Masonic Lodge/Eastern Star Lodge is contributing to the district and was built about 1948. Aker's Laundry & Cleaners is not in the district boundary, but it is on the site of a livery stable (1908). Various repair shops were located there for several years before the Cummings Ice Co. Ice Plant in 1938.
100 Block of N. Main St. (West side of Town Square-not in district boundary)
Tae Kwon Do Plus (107 N. Main)
This entire block is non-contributing to the district. There was nothing built on this block in 1908. Then in 1914, there was a grocery store with a meeting hall on the second floor. In 1921, there was still a grocery store on the first floor with a telephone exchange on the second floor. In recent memory, there was a law office here.
Ashley County Ledger (109 N. Main)
This building housed a general store and dry goods store in 1914 and 1921, respectively. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was home to Walker's Hardware Store.
B & F Martin Buildings (105 & 101 N. Main)
In 1921, there were four storefronts in this section, and going from north to south, the occupants were a hardware store, auto garage, moving picture theater, and grocery store with a cobbler and pressing shop in the rear. By 1938, there was a restaurant in the northernmost storefront, and then an auto sales & service shop with a filling station at the corner. In recent memory (1940s-50s), there was a saloon in the northernmost storefront and a Chevrolet Motor Company on the corner.
100 Block of S. Main St. (Southwest corner of Main & Lincoln-not in district
The five buildings on this block all appear to have been constructed at the same time, probably in the late 1920s. The southernmost one is the only one that bears any resemblance to its original appearance. In 1914, there was a general store with a Masonic Hall on the second floor, a dry goods & shoe store, a grocery store, and a motion picture theater. And in 1921, there were three grocery stores and a wholesale grocery warehouse. In recent memory, there were grocery stores, the Red Rooster Cafe, and a barber shop in this block.
First United Methodist Church
The congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Hamburg in 1850, and it was the first formed in Hamburg. The congregation met in a woodframe building on this lot before the current building's construction.
The First UMC was listed on the National Register because it is the best example of the Gothic Revival style in Hamburg, and perhaps all of Ashley County. It was built in 1910 with bricks from the local Nolley brick yard, operated by brothers J. A. and Sebe Nolley. Since the Nolley brothers were the local craftsmen most familiar with brick construction, they were asked to design the new church building. Because the Nolley brothers weren't familiar with the Gothic Revival style of architecture, they journeyed to the St. Louis World's Fair to view some examples before designing the current structure. The church was constructed by R. J. McBride, a local contractor who also built the Palace Hotel on the square. The stained glass was designed specifically for this church and was made and installed by the Jacoby Art Glass Co. of St. Louis.
This church represents a unique Moorish variant of the Gothic Revival style with its broad pointed arches that take on an "onion dome" shape rather than a lancet shape (Moorish Revival features Near Eastern Islamic designs from either the Ottoman [Turkish] Empire or from Moorish Spain). The building's Gothic details include multiple crenellated towers, lancet and pointed arch windows and openings, a peaked parapet, and buttresses. The northeastern portion of the building is the original structure, while there have been additions to the west (1950) and south (1956). A detached fellowship hall was built in 1983.
A boarding house (1908), the Curtis Hotel (1914) and then the Belmont Hotel (1921) were located just to the south of the church. By 1938, the hotel building was gone.
The interior of the church is absolutely breathtaking-especially the ornately detailed pressed tin ceiling. The sanctuary has been remodeled at least twice—in 1960 and in 1993. There used to be rolling wooden doors that separated the sanctuary from the far southern portion that acted as overflow seating or a Sunday School room.
100 Block of E. Lincoln St. (south side of square-not in district boundary)
Carpenter's Living Quarters (100-108 E. Lincoln St.)
Carpenter's Living Quarters encompasses the majority of this block, and the only visible historic fabric is the third story of the old Palace Hotel Building on the corner. The remaining historic storefronts are hidden underneath the vinyl siding. However, some of the original storefront has been retained under the awning. In 1908, (going west to east) there were three general stores, a bank, a dry goods store, and a drug store with a telephone exchange on the second floor. By 1914, the McCombs Hotel was located on the corner, followed by a general store, dry goods store, bank, post office, and drug store with telephone exchange upstairs. In 1921, there was a hotel on the corner with a jewelry store in it, two dry goods stores, a hat shop, a U.S. post office, and a drug store. In 1938, this three-story building was labeled as the Palace Hotel, and the remaining storefronts were listed as general retail stores. In recent memory, this block contained (from west to east) the Palace Hotel, Elite Cafe, Norman's Dept. Store, a bank, and the empty lot on the southwest corner of Lincoln & Mulberry was the site of Pryor's Drug Store which burned.
Bankston Building (201 S. Mulberry)
The Bankston Building is contributing to the district and was built about 1914 as a printing shop. It housed Bankston Insurance and Real Estate for many years. The building's beveled corner entry, zipper brickwork, and brick corbeling make it a distinctive commercial building in the district. The First Baptist Church behind the Bankston Building is not in the district, but there has been a Baptist church building on that site for many years; the current building was constructed in the 1950s.
200 Block of E. Lincoln St. (southeast corner of Lincoln & Mulberry) This entire block is contributing to the district.
Ooh La La Beauty Shop (200 E. Lincoln)
This building was home to Watson's Hardware Store for many years. Elijah David Watson moved to Hamburg from North Carolina in 1864 and founded Watson's Hardware Store in 1865. The Watson family operated the business until 1980 when the building was sold to the Ashley Life Insurance Company. The building now houses a beauty shop and the Chamber of Commerce. The building retains its recessed central entrance and plate glass windows. The recessed brick panels and corbelling also add style to the building.
Byrd Law Firm (204 E. Lincoln)
This building is unique because it features a pressed tin upper facade. It was built about 1913 as a dry goods and printing shop.
Barber Shop (206 E. Lincoln)
This simple brick building features a tile-capped parapet and was built about 1915. It has served as an office building and various general retail stores.
208 E. Lincoln
This building was constructed circa 1908 as an office and features a brick cornice with decorative corbeling.
210 E. Lincoln (Two-story building)
This building was constructed about 1927 and housed a restaurant in 1938.
The Justice Network (212 E. Lincoln)
This building was constructed about 1917 and has served as an office and various general retail stores.
Southeast corner of Lincoln & Cherry
Hamburg Presbyterian Church
The first Presbyterian congregation in Ashley County was organized by pioneers of the Presbyterian faith who had migrated here from the southeastern U. S. There was no Presbyterian congregation in Ashley County for them when they arrived, so they went to Union County to request help from a Presbyterian congregation there. The Arkansas Presbytery sent two pastors from neighboring areas to Ashley County in 1859 to investigate the possibility of organizing a church. A formal church was indeed organized in 1859 in Ashley County's Mill Creek township and was called the Orion Church. In 1866 the church moved to Hamburg and changed its name to the Hamburg Presbyterian Church, but they had no place of their own to worship, so they used the Methodist church for three years until 1869. The current church building was completed in 1871.
Early members of the church were merchants, farmers, timber workers, lawyers, teachers, and community leaders. Members included William McCombs, campaign manager for Woodrow Wilson in 1912; Charles Portis, author of True Grit; and George Pugh, one-time president of the American Bar Association.
The church appears much as it always has on the exterior, but the bell tower used to be much taller and the front entrance was a recessed porch. The tower was shortened and the porch enclosed about 1910.The building still features decorative brackets under the eaves and distinctive half-timbering over the wood-plank siding. The bell tower is decorated with gingerbread. The windows predate the 20th century. The building retains its original wood floor, and there are seven or eight original pews remaining inside the church. These pews were made by former slaves. The church originally had a balcony for blacks, but it was enclosed to make Sunday school classrooms. Portions of the sanctuary were converted into a kitchen and Sunday school classrooms as well. The Presbyterian congregation was aging and dwindling in attendance, so the Presbytery discontinued the church. The Garden Club acquired the building in October, 1987, and has not made any major structural changes to the building except for the addition of a storage closet in the sanctuary.
The Watson House was built in 1918 for David Elijah Watson. It was designed and built by W. C. Major Bunn at the cost of $11,000. An excellent example of the Classical Revival style in Hamburg, the Watson House features eight monumental fluted Ionic columns supporting its 2-story wrap-around porch. The home's multiple triangular pediments with fanlights, multi-paned windows, dentiled cornice, and widely overhanging eaves also add a Classical flair. The Watson family continued to live in the house and operate the family business, Watson Hardware, until 1980, when the business was sold to Ashley Life Insurance Co. and the house sold to the Ashley County Historical Society for the Ashley County Museum. The ACHS began restoration of the home in August 2008, and it was completed at the end of April 2009. The Watson House is significant not only for its architecture, but for its association with one of Hamburg's pioneer families.
In addition to the presentation by Silva, Sue Stell met the group for a tour of the interior of the Hamburg First United Methodist Church. Dorinda Stanley hosted the group at the Hamburg Garden Center, formerly the Hamburg Presbyterian Church, and Lunece Thacker was the host for cookies and drinks at the Ashley County Museum, where the tour concluded.