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The Jess Norman Post 166 American Legion Hut, the best example in Augusta (Woodruff County) of a vernacular log meeting hall, was constructed in 1934 through local efforts with the assistance of the Depression-era Civil Works Administration (CWA). The post was named for Jess Norman, the first man from Augusta to be killed during World War I. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 14, 2001.
On January 5, 1933, the Augusta Advocate announced that the Jess Norman Post planned to construct a hut on the banks of the White River for “a minimum amount of money” and with “all labor…contributed by the Legionnaires.” The Legionnaires planned a boxing match as a fundraising event. Held in the largest courtroom in the Woodruff County Courthouse, it featured local pugilists Jelly Porter, Banty Geeham, and “Half Pint” Thompson. Tickets cost from twenty-five cents to one dollar. The Advocate article following the event fails to reveal how much money was raised, but it does state that the crowd “filled about three fourths of the courthouse.”
The land on which the hut was built was conveyed to the American Legion by two quitclaim deeds dated January 6, 1934. The first deed was from W. B., W. E., Daryl, and Martha Conner, and the second was from W. C. and Emily Berry. Each stated that the sale price was one dollar, with the stipulation that construction begin on the hut within ninety days.
Despite the earlier fundraising effort, the project was funded by the Civil Works Administration, one of the earliest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs designed to put Americans back to work at the height of the Great Depression. The CWA approved $1,779 for the project, of which $1,120 was earmarked for labor. By January 11, 1934, work was underway, as the Advocate reported: “A dozen or more workmen are busy in the woods cutting the 300 logs that Wade Sale has donated for the exterior and another small crew is leveling ground for the building.…The Stanley power boat ‘Cut Off’ will be used to bring the logs down the river to the building site.”
By February, the Legionnaires realized that the CWA funds would be insufficient “since such items as the rock chimney, the chinking of the logs, etc. were not included in the original outlay,” and the group began a membership drive to raise the money needed to complete the structure. They apparently succeeded, as a March 22 Advocate article noted that workers at the hut “have revived the lost art of making roof boards. The town had to be scowered [sic] to find froes and draw knives,” but in two days, the workers succeeded in making 6,000 of the 20,000 shakes needed for the roof. A week later, the city put in a road to the nearly finished hut, a kindness repaid by the Legionnaires by an offer to allow the city to hold its regular monthly council meetings in the building after its completion.
By May 24, 1934, everything was done except construction of the stone fireplace and chimney and the addition of a rail around the balcony, and, on June 21, the Legionnaires announced that a barbecue would be held on July 4 to bring the hut officially into service. Some 150 people attended the opening, and the Advocate reported: “Although the event had been advertised as a barbeque, it turned out to be a banquet. Never before was such a dinner served here. There were three kinds of barbeque: Mutton, goat and pig, dishes and dishes of salad, cakes, pies, and every other good thing to eat.”
The building remains in service in the twenty-first century through the joint ownership of the Jess Norman Post 166 and the City of Augusta.
For additional information:“Banquet Marks Opening of Hut.” Augusta Advocate, July 5, 1934, p. 1.
“Foundation Completed on Legion Hut.” Augusta Advocate, January 25, 1934, p. 1.
“Ground Being Broken for Legion Hut.” Augusta Advocate, January 11, 1934, p. 1.
“Jess Norman Post 166 American Legion Hut.” 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/WO0041.nr.pdf (accessed June 2, 2015).
“Legion Prepares for Boxing Tourney.” Augusta Advocate, January 12, 1933, p. 1.
“Legion to Start Membership Drive.” Augusta Advocate, February 8, 1934, p. 1.
“Legionnaires Plan Barbeque July 4th.” Augusta Advocate, June 21, 1934, p. 1.
“Lost Art Is Revived at Legion Hut.” Augusta Advocate, March 22, 1934, p. 1.
“New Legion Hut Nears Completion.” Augusta Advocate, May 24, 1934, p. 1.
“Work Starts on New Legion Hut.” Augusta Advocate, January 4, 1934, p. 1.
Mark K. Christ Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 6/2/2015
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