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The Gann Museum of Saline County, established in 1980, is located in a historical structure at 218 Market Street in Benton (Saline County). Housed in the old medical offices of doctors Dewell Gann Sr. and Dewell Gann Jr., it contains an extensive collection of Arkansas artifacts: Quapaw and Caddo Indian artifacts, Niloak and other pottery made in Saline County, memorabilia depicting early county history up to the present, industrial and manufacturing items, photographs, and old newspapers. It is an incorporated, nonprofit institution, governed by a committee of thirteen county residents.
The Gann building is an architectural landmark. Built in 1893 as the office of Dr. Dewell Gann Sr., it is the only known building in existence that is constructed out of bauxite. The office was built for Gann by patients who could not pay for services he had rendered them. Abundant deposits of bauxite were conveniently located nearby, and the soft ore could be hand-sawed into blocks, hardened for six weeks, then used for construction. On an inside wall—which was an outside wall when Gann Sr. used the building as his office—is an imprint of Dr. Gann’s foot, made as he sat waiting for patients in a rocker with his foot propped against the wall. The building served as a medical office until 1946, when Dr. Gann Jr. gave it to the city of Benton to serve as a library and, later, a museum. Constructed in the Victorian style, it features a five-gable roof, stained windows, and ornate wood trim with pastel-colored bauxite blocks. Notable are the separate entrances for men and women installed by Gann to assure his female patients that they could avoid exposure to any rough workmen (railroad or industrial workers) who were visiting the office at the same time.
Displays in the first section include the old desk of Dr. Gann Sr. Its pigeonholes still contain some of his correspondence. The walls surrounding the desk feature an exhibit on the younger Gann’s development of the resuscitator. Photographs and other exhibitions relay information about other notable residents of Saline County.
The second room holds a vast pottery collection (nine commercial pottery firms have been located in the county), including several pieces of Niloak pottery. An unusual piece, a tombstone marker in the shape of a butter churn, was made about 1878 for a child who died in Benton while the family was traveling west.
The third and largest room holds an impressive collection of remnants from Arkansas’s past. Included are the wood carvings of Sebert Magby in a six-section panorama on the life of David O. Dodd. Other wood carvings of Magby include a re-creation of cotton growing in the county, as well as one illustrating the story of Niloak pottery. Other exhibits are determined by chronological and seasonal events. As display space is limited in the museum, many pieces are stored until special shows are scheduled.
The Gann Museum plays an important role in Saline County by providing a doorway to its heritage through summer activities for children, as well as oral history presentations and permanent and temporary exhibits relating to the social and cultural history of the county. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the 138th building in the state so recognized.
For additional information:
“Gann Building.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/SA0028.nr.pdf (accessed May 21, 2015).
The Gann Museum of Saline County. http://www.angelfire.com/ar3/gannmuseum/ (accessed July 7, 2014).
Shirley Parson Coppock
Saline County History and Heritage Society
Last Updated 5/21/2015
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