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The Jefferson County Historical Society officially began on August 20, 1961, when a group of twenty-five people attended an organizational meeting at the Simmons Bank Community Center in downtown Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). At the meeting, David W. Wallis was elected temporary chairman and Hilda Metz was elected temporary secretary. A committee consisting of David Perdue, Bess Jenkins, and Jerry Fuess was appointed to nominate officers of the society.
On September 10, the society met again and elected its first group of officers: Sam M. Levine, president; David Wallis, first vice president; Bess Jenkins, second vice president; and Edwin Boles, secretary-treasurer. A constitution and bylaws were also established at this meeting.
The first issue of the Jefferson County Historical Quarterly was published in November 1961. The issue contained an article titled “Reminiscences” by Mary Roane Houston; a roster of men who served in the Jefferson Guards and in the Pine Bluff Artillery during the Civil War; several early twentieth-century Pine Bluff photographs; and a list of the eighty-three charter members of the Jefferson County Historical Society.
In 1962, after four issues had been published, the Quarterly ceased publication for about eight years. The society itself remained in existence and focused its efforts on historical preservation, taking on the task of preserving the Dexter Harding House, built in about 1850 by one of Pine Bluff’s earliest settlers and located at 1109 Texas Street, on the site of the proposed new Pine Bluff Civic Center. The society was able to have the lumber of the original three rooms of the home saved, but construction was delayed until funds could be raised.
In January 1969, the society began publishing the Quarterly again and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, operating under the name Jefferson County Restoration and Preservation Commission, Inc. This was one of several name changes the society went through during the next twenty years, the end result being a return to its original name, the Jefferson County Historical Society, with the addition of the suffix “Inc.”
In the years 1973–1975, with the help of a $7,000 grant from the Arkansas American Revolution Bicentennial Committee, the society reconstructed the Dexter Harding House at Pine Street and the Martha Mitchell Expressway. The house became the tourist information center for Pine Bluff and the headquarters of Pine Bluff Downtown Development, Inc.
In 2016, the society received an anonymous bequest of $100,000 in honor of Josephine Martin (1899–1984), who for many years taught English and journalism at Pine Bluff High School. The bequest enabled the society to engage in other historical endeavors besides publication of its Quarterly, including installation of new historical markers and donation of funds to other historically oriented nonprofit organizations in Jefferson County.
At the beginning of 2018, the society had approximately 385 subscriber-members.
For additional information:
Atkinson, J. H. “With Our County Historical Societies.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 20 (Winter 1961): 397.
“Historical Group Is Organized.” Pine Bluff Commercial, August 21, 1961, p.1
Jefferson County Historical Quarterly online issues. http://pineblufflibrary.org/historical-quarterlies (accessed June 5, 2018).
“News, Notes and Comments.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 32 (Winter 1973): 386.
Jefferson County Historical Society
Last Updated 6/5/2018
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