Tuesday, January 10, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Jacksonville preservation

The Jacksonville Historical District has laid out its best vision yet for its plan to preserve and revitalize the town’s original downtown near the railroad tracks on South First and Second streets between East Center and Mulberry streets.

An appeal for financial contributions sent to supporters included a lengthy list summarizing the origins of nearly every building in that area. Previously the group has released colorful sketches of the area they hope to protect.

To many, the buildings seem destined for the wrecking ball. That part of town hasn’t been the center of commerce since Hwy. 67/167 was constructed and Little Rock Air Force Base opened, shifting activity north. Passenger trains haven’t stopped in Jacksonville in at least 50 years, which also made that area less relevant.

But organizers of the Jacksonville Historical District see potential for new economic activity brought about through an appreciation for their town’s old-timey days when Jacksonville was not much more than a train stop.

We can see the area getting a new billiards parlor at 120 S. First St., where Mule Taylor opened a pool hall in 1942 to entertain the hundreds of workers who had come to Jacksonville to work at the ordnance plant, building weaponry for World War II.

Mule Taylor also ran a 24-hour café next door at 118 S. First St., where Roberta’s Salon is today. The salon is owned by Roberta McGrath, a founding member of the Jacksonville Historical District. She’s also has an art gallery in that area.

Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) is working to change state law to allow drinks to be served without the charade of getting a private-club license. That could help a pool hall and other venues in the historic district as well as many other businesses all over Jacksonville.

A small coffee shop and café could help bring people to the historic district. Enjoy a blueberry muffin, a shot of espresso or an ice cream before heading over to the history museum and learning about Jacksonville’s early days.

There are also plans to establish a welcome center and build a replica of the train depot that once stood at the site. Also, the original telegraph and freight office that once stood along the tracks will be returned in the spring after being rediscovered on private land in north Pulaski County outside of town.

Most of the 20 buildings in the historic district were built in the middle of the 20th Century, but a few are older: 118 N. First St. is engraved “Thompson 1938,” which was Blodgett’s Drug Store in 1951 and Nixon’s Barber Shop in the 1940s; 112 N. First St. was first a wood-frame mercantile store built by Edgar Harpole in 1927. The area was first settled in 1870.

This historic district’s list, which was published by The Leader last Wednesday, shows a group that’s focused on research about the past. But it can’t reach its goals without the community’s financial support.

Alderman Barbara Mashburn, another founding member of the preservation group, is asking the public to mail checks to the Jacksonville Historical District, P.O. Box 6507, Jacksonville, Ark. 72078.

For more information about making a donation, email her at barbnbri@comcast.net or call 501-765-0767.

Contributions will be recognized as people and businesses that donate $1,000 or more will have their name engraved on a plaque inside the future history museum.

For $100 or more, your name will be on a list with other sponsors of the historical district.

There are other ways to help, too. Annual memberships are available for $20 and lifetime memberships are $500, and books about Jacksonville’s history, which cost $20 each, and T-shirts that say “Straight Outa J-Ville” for $15 each. Both can be purchased by calling Mashburn. Proceeds from those sales will help support the historic district.

We look forward to vibrancy returning to the area and winning the appreciation of residents from other parts of town and beyond. The Jacksonville Historical District has done its homework, and it deserves the community’s support more than ever.