History at Our Doorstep ~ Potts Inn, Historic Stagecoach Station

May 1, 2008 | By More

Story by Dianne Edwards

They tread where others have gone before, surrounded by the rich and colorful history of Pope County. School children from Pottsville and surrounding towns often stand on the same hardwood floors that the eleven children of Kirkbride and Pamelia (Logan) Potts once stood in the 1850s. 

Open to tourists and students alike, the curious come to view Potts Inn. The structure has been identified as one of the best preserved stagecoach stations on the Butterfield Overland mail route between Memphis and Fort Smith.

John Kirkbride Potts (1803–1879) traveled by covered wagon to Arkansas from his home in Pennsylvania. A young bachelor, he brought with him two families of slaves and settled in an area south of the Arkansas River.

After meeting and marrying Pamelia Logan, Potts moved across the river to Pope County and constructed a two-story log cabin at the foot of Crow Mountain. The home soon became a mecca for early travelers.

Following an unprofitable trip prospecting for gold in California during the 1840s, Potts identified the need to supply food to the gold miners in the west. Returning to his small cabin, he soon returned to California, driving a herd of cattle on a year-long trip. The venture turned a nice profit for Potts, who earned $20 per head of cattle for which he had paid $5 a piece.

He made a second cattle drive and used the money to build a home “befitting his station and his large family.” Using slave labor, Potts built the two-and-a-half story home of design similar to his home state of Pennsylvania.

Most of the wood used in the construction was hand-planed with the marks of the plane bits visible on the attic planks. The wood had been cut on the Potts’ homestead, hauled by oxen to Cagle’s Mill and sawed into lumber.

‘Holiday Inn’ of its Day

According to its caretakers, Potts Inn was the only “scheduled” stop on the route between Ft. Smith & Memphis. This was because of the fine cooking and immaculate rooms offered by Mrs. Potts, her husband and their family. The Inn was the center of the community that would become Pottsville.

“Mrs. Potts was known by travelers near and far as having the cleanest beds and the best food,” said Margaret Motley. Motley, along with several dozen others, are board members serving the Pope County Historical Foundation.

Describing Potts Inn once as “the Holiday Inn of its day,” Charles Oates, president of the Foundation, oversees direction of the museum. The home occupies a large block in Pottsville and is regarded as a fine example of antebellum architecture. It earned a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1970. (The Pottsville Historic District was recognized in 1978; Pottsville Commercial Historic District was added in 2005.)

All nine rooms (the eight main rooms and attached kitchen) feature bricks that were made at the homesite with molds and racks now on display at the home. Built with two levels of four 20’x20’ rooms, the upstairs emulates the same layout and wide hall as the first level.

The family or “community” room, was the spot where men would light up their cigars and discuss serious politics and issues of the day. The room served as the lobby for stagecoach travelers.

The first post office in the area was located in the wide hall of the Potts home. Known as the Galla Creek Post Office, the first postal desk used by Postmaster Potts, occupies a spot in the community room. The desk was designed by Potts and created by local artisans. Glass-fronted book cases, made for the first courthouse in Russellville, are on exhibit there, as well.

The first-floor dining room, located adjacent to the community room, featured a large table upon which the adults would dine. The children were seated at a separate table.

Dinner guests included Governors, military officials and Cherokee chiefs who shared the hospitality and delicious foods assembled by Mrs. Potts. China matching the original pattern used by the family adorns the table.

The Potts’ daughters were all married in the parlor, located to the left of the front floor entrance. The most decorated room in the house, the parlor was used for occasions of state, including tea parties and musicals. A unique square piano, an original tall secretary and a number of pieces of gift furniture fill the parlour.

An oil painting bearing the image of the late Marge Crabaugh hangs on the parlor wall. Mrs. Crabaugh was instrumental in acquiring the property for the county and was a huge contributor in the efforts to maintain the Potts Inn Museum.

The master bedroom completes the four- square layout on the lower level. Since taxes during that time were based on the number of rooms a home contained, there are no closets in the bedrooms. Wardrobes house authentic clothing worn during the period. The Potts family Bible graces a nearby table. An oil lamp sits atop a nightstand. Many of the furnishings in the home are Eastlake pieces.

Each of the upstairs bedrooms originally held from four to six full-sized beds. “The Three Sisters’ Room, furnished in memory of Selma Brooks Baker and her two sisters, is filled with authentic furnishings. Detailed attention is given to utilizing period furnishings, many of which have been donated to Potts Inn.

At least one pane of original glass can be found in each of the windows at Potts Inn. The glass is believed to have been brought up river from New Orleans, says Emmy Lee, caretaker. The doors were also brought by keel boat up the Arkansas River.

The stairway found at the end of the 12-foot wide central hall is a “flyaway design.” The rounded hand rail features simple square-cut posts. The second- story stairway which leads to the attic is of the same design. The attic, where the children would sleep upon pallets when the Inn was filled, remains in its original, unfinished state.

Other Outbuildings

According to historical documents, 14 buildings once were located on the Potts acreage. They included barns for the stagecoach horses and family animals, a chicken house, tack rooms for the family’s leather goods and the stage, carriage houses for the wagons and buggies owned by the Potts’, and a building for overnight stagecoaches.

A smokehouse, turned doctor’s office museum, is one of the original structures. Also found on the property were a well house offering the best water around, two servant houses and the main house.

Other structures have been placed there to house additional collections maintained by the Pope County Historical Foundation.

A hat museum, believed to be only one of two in the United States, houses a collection of creations by Clarksville, Arkansas, native Michael McLean, among others. McLean served as hatmaker and designer to First Lady Grace Coolidge and Queen Marie of Romania (b. Princess Marie of Edinburgh, 1875-1938.) His collection was donated to Potts Inn in 1970.

Mrs. Jean Oates and caretaker Emmy Lee have the responsibility of maintaining both the hat museum and a doll museum located in an adjacent building.

“These are not even all of the hats in the collection,” Emmy said recently. “These are the spring hats. I have the fall hats in storage and will put them out in the fall.”

The doll museum contains a unique collection of dolls replicating the first ladies of the United States and Arkansas, each dressed in replicas of their original inaugural ball gowns.

A barn donated by Boyce Sinclair displays antique farm equipment. The caretaker’s cabin is a two-story log cabin moved from the Bell’s Chapel area.

A one-room pioneer log cabin hand-built by the father of local historical writer and Pope County native Dr. Tate C. “Piney” Page was donated by his estate to the Foundation and moved on site. A collection of Indian artifacts also donated to the Foundation will be housed in another donated cabin to be placed on the site soon.

Foundation members
the Potts family once owned an eight-seater outhouse which is no longer standing.

“Back then a family’s wealth was often judged by how many seats they had in their outhouse,” added Motley, laughing. “By those standards, the Potts family was rich, indeed.”

Earlier reported to be a “six-seater,” Mary Hall, the 93-year-old surviving great-granddaughter of Kirkbride Potts recently contradicted the seating arrangement. A side-saddle belonging to Mary is on exhibit in the hallway leading to the once-detached kitchen.

The kitchen, a one-story outbuilding with a large, wide fireplace, was separated from the main house by a covered porch and walkway. It was built away from the main house for two reasons.

According to Pam Scarber, board member and former history teacher; “One was the heat; the second, in case there was a fire, the whole house wouldn’t be placed in jeopardy,” she said.

Potts Inn was occupied by members of the Potts family until 1970, when it was sold to Pope County. It remains under the direction of the Pope County Historical Foundation.

Members include: Charles Oates, president; Margaret Motley, secretary; Bert Page, treasurer; Mary Baker, Marshall Cole, David Duffield, Anna Fields, John Heflin, Bert Mullens, David Oates, Sue Roberts, Pam Scarber, Buford Smith, Rebecca Stowers, Van Tyson, David Vance, Sandy Vance, George Woolf, Emmy Lee, caretaker; Lois Morris, honorary board member; David Garret, advisory; Ike Laws, advisory, and Gertrude Buchanan, dollmaker.

The Potts Inn Museum and Historic Stagecoach Station is located on Galla Creek, in the block of Main and Center Streets, in downtown Pottsville. Take Hwy. 64 East from Russellvile or Exit 88 off I-40.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is closed December 1 through January 31.

The cost to experience an amazing piece of history is $3 per adult and $1 per child.  

 

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