‘Walks Through History’ tour coming to downtown Pine Bluff

Pine Bluff’s historic downtown district is going uptown as the location for a “Walks Through History” tour sponsored by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The free public event is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10.

The popular AHPP tours are conducted and typically draw participants from throughout the state.

The Pine Bluff tour, co-sponsored by the Pine Bluff Historic District Commission and the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historic Museum, will begin at the Jefferson County Courthouse at Main and Barraque streets and then proceed through the old commercial district under the guidance of AHPP Preservation Outreach Coordinator Rachel Silva, who visited with several local officials Monday in gaining input for the event.

During the downtown walk, participants will be provided details on architecture and former occupants of the district’s varied buildings. Immediately after the event, participants will be given the opportunity to tour the interiors of the nearby historic Boone-Murphy and Du Bocage houses, both of which have undergone recent renovations.

The Boone-Murphy House, located at 714 West Fourth Avenue, was constructed around 1860 and served as Union Army headquarters during a portion of the Civil War, including the November 1863 Battle of Pine Bluff. The revived structure is now the headquarters of the historic district commission.

The Du Bocage house at 1115 West Fourth was completed in 1866.

Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Pine Bluff was incorporated as the county seat on Jan. 8, 1839. Mayor Debe Hollingsworth recently announced she would be forming a committee to oversee the city’s approaching 175th anniversary.

The city initially flourished with its cotton and timber production as well as an Arkansas River port. When the railroad came to the city, the cotton and timber markets broadened dramatically. The Cotton Belt Railroad became the city’s biggest employer when it put its shops and a car-production plant here.

The city/county museum is housed within the old rail depot on East Fourth Avenue, just a block off Main Street.

Still Southeast Arkansas’ most-populated city, Pine Bluff was once the state’s second-largest municipality. It experienced a population boon during World War II with the construction of the nearby Pine Bluff Arsenal, an Army production and storage facility for chemical agents and munitions.

The city also boasts the state’s second-oldest college — the historically black University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, formerly Arkansas Agriculture, Mechanical and Normal (AM&N) College.

Pine Bluff has notched a number of firsts. The state’s first radio station — WOK — was put on the air here by Arkansas Power and Light Company (now Entergy) founder Harvey Couch in 1922. The station operated in a Main Street building across the street from the present Simmons First National Bank.

The state’s first television station — KATV Channel 7 — originated here in 1953. KATV, which maintains a Pine Bluff office but is now headquartered in Little Rock, will mark the 60th anniversary of its broadcasting debut on Dec. 19.

The condition of a major downtown site — the landmark Hotel Pines — has declined since its 1970 closing, but there’s talk of a rebirth for the hotel, once considered among the state’s finest. The centennial anniversary of the hotel’s grand opening will occur Nov. 6.

For more information on the Pine Bluff tour, telephone the AHPP at 501-324-9880, e-mail info@arkansaspreservation.org, visit the web site www.arkansaspreservation.org, or write the agency at 323 Center Street, Suite 1500, Little Rock, Ark. 72201.