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The Washington County Historical Society (WCHS), one of the first local historical societies in Arkansas, was founded in 1951 by Walter J. Lemke, a professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). The society has grown steadily over the years and, as of 2010, has more than 700 members in thirty-nine states. The all-volunteer society has a very active and successful living history program, highlighted by the annual “Heritage School,” a week-long class that teaches the heritage and culture of Civil War–era Arkansans. The WCHS has a strong educational outreach program to area schools and students. Local teachers take part in programs offering professional development hours. Annual events such as the Ice Cream Social, the Battle of Fayetteville Commemorative, Statehood Day, and the Distinguished Citizen Award further assist in accomplishing the mission of the society, which is “to discover, preserve, and celebrate the history of Washington County, Arkansas, and to share that heritage with others.”
The WCHS owns three historical properties: Headquarters House, the Archibald Yell Law Office, and the Sarah Bird Northrup Ridge House. Built by Judge Jonas Tebbets in 1853, Headquarters House, located at 118 East Dickson Street, is the home of the society. The front lawn of Headquarters House was the site of military action at Fayetteville, and an interior doorway of Headquarters House bears the scar of a minie ball. The house, with its period furnishings, is a stop for hundreds of tourists each year. The gardens, meticulously maintained by the Master Gardeners, complete the landscape. In 1992, the 1835 Archibald Yell Law Office was moved to Headquarters House grounds. The 1839 Ridge House, an unofficial Trail of Tears site and Fayetteville’s oldest house, served as a refuge for Sarah Bird Northrup Ridge and her children after the assassination of her Cherokee husband, John Ridge. The WCHS maintains the Ridge House as business rental property.
The society offers two periodicals: Flashback and Flashforward. Flashback is the quarterly publication of the society and has been published since 1951. Flashforward is the society’s monthly newsletter. The WCHS has more than eighty publications and also maintains a bookstore on site. Over the years, the society amassed a great deal of historical material, largely through donations. In 1996, the society decided to place all research materials in its possession in facilities more suited to the preservation of such materials. Original documents went to UA’s Special Collections department, genealogy material to the Fayetteville Public Library, and photographs to the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.
For additional information:Washington County Historical Society. http://www.washcohistoricalsociety.org/ (accessed February 17, 2016).
Kirkpatrick, Matt. “The Washington County Historical Society: The Beginnings.” Flashback 54 (Autumn 2004): 171–174.
Lonnie StrangeWashington County Historical Society
Last Updated 5/11/2017
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