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The McCollum-Chidester House in Camden (Ouachita County) was built in 1847 by Peter McCollum, a North Carolinian who came to Arkansas and acquired the property on a land-grant basis. It is today a museum maintained by the Ouachita County Historical Society.
McCollum purchased the building materials in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had them shipped upriver to Camden by steamboat. It was the first planed lumber house in the area of Ouachita County and possibly in southern Arkansas. It boasted the first plastered walls, carpeting, and wallpaper.
John Chidester, an enterprising stagecoach owner and mail contractor, purchased the home for $10,000 in gold and moved his family to Camden in 1858. Chidester wanted to expand his growing stage line farther west, using Camden as the central headquarters. Moving to Camden from Tuscumbia, Alabama, the Chidesters purchased furniture in New Orleans to outfit their new home. This furniture is still in the home, along with many personal items such as photographs, letters, books, and jewelry. Visitors can see Leah Chidester’s china, silver, linens, and her sewing machine with an 1851 manufacturing date. Pressed-tin window cornices still adorn several rooms.
Chidester’s line spread over the state of Arkansas in an intricate web of routes. He sub-contracted a mail route with the famous Butterfield Overland Express from Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to Memphis, Tennessee. There was a daily run from Hot Springs (Garland County) to Little Rock (Pulaski County), and his stages could go from Camden to Memphis in an unheard-of forty-four hours.
In 1864, Camden was under occupation by the Union army under the leadership of Union General Frederick Steele. Steele commandeered the Chidester home and used the parlor and east bedroom as his headquarters for five days, during which the Engagement at Poison Springs occurred. Chidester was accused of spying for the Confederacy, as he supposedly confiscated Union mail from his stagecoach and turned it over to the Confederate troops. Bullet holes can still be seen in a wall upstairs where Union soldiers fired at random, seeking Chidester, who was hidden in a small closet nearby. He was forced to flee to Texas, where he remained until after the end of the war. He returned to Camden to continue his stagecoach business and operate his livery stable.
The McCollum-Chidester House Museum is now owned and maintained by the Ouachita County Historical Society. It was purchased by the Ouachita County Historical Society in 1963 from the Chidester family descendants, who had continued to live in the house until approximately 1961, and established as a museum. It is presented in the manner and style of the Chidester family as closely as possible. This was made possible through John Chidester’s granddaughter, Annie Leah Chidester Harrell, who lived in the home during the first part of the twentieth century. She kept the oral history and stories of both the McCollum and the Chidester families. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
For additional information: Ouachita County Historical Society. http://www.ouachitacountyhistoricalsociety.org/ (accessed December 9, 2011).
Clara FreelandOuachita County Historical Society
Last Updated 12/9/2011
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