Tuesday, May 26, 2015

TOP STORY >> El Paso library: Bank on it

The El Paso Bank was built in 1894. It closed shortly after the Great Depression. Over the years it fell into disrepair. The community’s Parks and Playground Association is renovating the building and it will be used as a public library.

The  old El Paso Bank building will reopen as a public library by the end of the year after extensive remodeling and repairs. It will be part of the White County Regional Library System.

Leader staff writer

The El Paso community is working on a wealth of knowledge. Volunteers are transforming the old El Paso Bank building into a library that will open by year’s end.

The El Paso Bank was built in 1894. It was the town’s first and only bank. It survived the Great Depression and closed some time later.

The building then saw use as a general store, 4-H meetings and is a school bus stop. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The building was donated by Steve and Elaine Corum in 2009 to the El Paso Parks and Playground Association.

Project coordinator Judy Riley said the bank’s president was Rich Kent, who had a law degree from Harvard.

In 1917, there the El Paso Bank was robbed by a gang whose leader was from Heber Springs. They got away with several thousands of dollars, but they also took the bank records that were never found.

Kent would take the loan and deed records to the White County Courthouse in Searcy once a month. The robbery happened between that time. It is believed the robbery was connected to a loan.

After the robbery, only three families showed the bank their records and made good on their debts.

El Paso being an unincorporated community will be a challenge for the new library since it is not a city and does not a have a local tax base.

Project coordinator Judy Riley said the library will be supported by the community.

“Whatever we have to do to raise money to run it, we’ll do that,” Riley said.

The Parks and Playground Association has raised more $15,000 through chili suppers, dessert auctions, fish dinners and donations from individuals.

It has also received $108,000 in funding from the state’s Department of Heritage, the state’s Department of Rural Services, the state’s General Improvement Funds from Planning and Development Districts and the White County Quorum Court.

The project is only lacking funds to build a wheelchair accessible ramp.

Work on the old building has been extensive. The outside brick was re-mortared, missing bricks were replaced and new vent covers were made and installed.

The original bricks were homemade with clay at the Harvey Farm east of El Paso.

The porch was removed. A dead tree beside the building was cut down.

The old flooring, plumbing fixtures, ceiling and insulation were all removed. The crawl space was dug out and the excess dirt was removed. A septic system was installed and a handicap accessible bathroom was finished.

Parks and Playground Association board member Tom Riley said the pine wood floor held the floor joist. There was no insulation and lots of termite damage.

A subfloor was installed. The ceiling rafters and trusses were reinforced. The end gables and metal roof was replaced.

The windows and doors were repaired or replaced. A French drain was installed to control storm water runoff.

New electrical connections, light fixtures and a heating and cooling system were installed.

Work still needing to be done includes installing ceiling wood decking, insulation and the pressed tin ceiling tiles.

The old bank vault will turned into a children’s section. The library will have work stations with computers with Wi-Fi.

“The library will connect this community to the world. There are two groups of people who live here — families with children who chose to live in a pastoral setting, and retirees on fixed incomes. They have satellite and TV antennas. Their (Internet) options are dial-up,” Judy Riley said.

The Lonoke Prairie Regional Library System board voted last year to donate used shelving and circulation desk from the old Cabot library when the new Cabot library opens in August.

Once the library is completed the parks association will present the building and operating plans to the White County Regional Library board for consideration to be part of the library system.

White County Regional Library chairman Clay Goff said, “We are excited about the opportunity. There is a need for a library for the residents in the western part of our county.”

The library does not need any book donations at this time. A storage unit is full of books.