The architecture of Arkansas, the state located in the southern part of America, brings to mind familiar images of patrician houses built in neo-Classic style, similar to those promoted by movies like Gone with the Wind, the iconic production that has become an epitome of the southern culture ever since its release in 1939. 

Indeed, the so-called Greek-Revival style that was fashionable in the 1860s and 1870s can be met throughout the entire state, in both west and east, for example, in cities like Fayetteville and Pine Bluff. The houses and mansions built in this imposing style celebrated the status of those that inhabited them, as they served both as living place and political office. The Greek-revival style was the visual accessory of the age just before the appearance of mass politics when the politician was seen more like a clerk in the service of the nation than as an aristocrat of the old times. The Greek-revival is an equally showy and elegant style as provided by the imposing richly decorated columns that sustain the house.

Another major influence in the Arkansas architecture is the Victorian one. This is to be expected since the public mind of the second half of the nineteenth century was still indebted to the view according to which British heritage was one of the most important contributors to modern American identity. These colonial undertones are visible in the impressive palaces that host the public administration, financial bodies or justice courts. These buildings are a mark of bigger urban agglomerations like the capital of the state, Little Rock. The building material (e.g. in most of the cases, stone), the towers, the multitude of windows conceived in various styles, which range from gothic to neo-classic, are all meant to suggest the idea of secular power, as represented by the federal government in the territory but also of individuality, as each state is a unique contributor to what makes the American identity. 

Yet, other architectural influences, although not so marked, are those that make reference to the French styles of the time, namely eclecticism and, respectively, Art Nouveau. Houses that display a richness of ornamentations (usually made of wood, so a tribute paid to the local specificities),  added to the house front (e.g. the pillars that sustain the patio) or to the windows, represent a tribute brought to the French influence on Southern culture. Yet, above all, these styles tended to illustrate the status of the house`s owner, most often a nouveau riche, an individual that acquired a name for himself via `non-patrician` forms of wealth like financial speculation or commerce. Naturally, these people wanted to set themselves apart from the traditional community, just the way Art Nouveau wished to contend with academism and other remnants of the `old times`. Some samples of eclectic and Art Nouveau features can be admired in some historical houses of Pine Bluff.   

Text: Raluca Goleșteanu

Photos:  Rod Jacobs

 

5 thoughts on “Mid 19th century and Early 20th century Highbrow Houses of Arkansas (Pine Bluff, Little Rock and Fayetteville)

  1. Very interesting, especially on the French perspective. And you picked out most of my favorite pictures I think. 🙂 One thing I still like about Pine Bluff is that they have some houses in a Mediterranean Revival style of architecture, popular in the 1920s. But I think this style tends to be found mostly in Florida and California and not common in Arkansas. Yet Pine Bluff seems to have adopted some of this during it’s boom in the 1920s. Not sure if that indicates perhaps Pine Bluff was doing better than other communities in Arkansas during that time period. Or perhaps only the biggest communities in Arkansas received this influence and perhaps Little Rock lost all of it’s buildings over time. Or if Pine Bluff at that time period was perhaps a bit more cosmopolitan.

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    1. Honestly, I haven’t seen much of Mediterranean style featured in the houses I showed. At least not according to what is described as Mediterranean style. I do hope you will find my comments reasonable. Some things are not in my knowledge, but I tried a guess :).

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      1. Sorry, I got a bit off topic earlier. No, the houses I referred to weren’t ones shown in the article. But just thinking back to the architectural styles made me think of the ones I’ve seen in the past of this style. Growing up I probably enjoyed the Victorian houses and architecture the most. But over time have become interested in the Mediterranean Revival style as well because of it’s uniqueness, especially in this region of the country. 🙂 But yes, it’s a very nice article and I appreciated the French perspective, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective before.

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    2. Spending many summers in Pine Bluff growing up, I enjoyed the varied architectural styles there, and it’s a pleasure to review some of them here. I remember houses there, from modest to grand, (probably built in the late 1920s) that exhibited a strong Mediterranean influence.

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