One House at a Time

May 1, 2007 | By More

The City of Russellville recognized the formation of the Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association in 2006 with the presentation of four neighborhood street markers, such as the one above. The association was presented the Partners and Better Government Award for their efforts in restoration and preservation of one of Russellville’s oldest neighborhoods. 

The City of Russellville recognized the formation of the Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association in 2006 with the presentation of four neighborhood street markers, such as the one above. The association was presented the Partners and Better Government Award for their efforts in restoration and preservation of one of Russellville’s oldest neighborhoods.

Years before the official organization of the Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association, those living in the area hosted annual block parties and gatherings to meet and socialize with their neighbors.

Bob and Susan Miller, along with Glen and Cindy Brock, began holding an annual Memorial Day party during the mid-1990s, inviting as many as 100 or more of their closest family and friends.

Guests enjoyed grilled meats and shared potluck dishes which enjoying music provided by the Miller’s son, Matt, and his garage band. Streets were blocked off so the kids – old and young alike – could play Frisbee and enjoy the ‘good life.’

The Millers, along with two dozen other interested residents, became founding members of the Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association when the group met and organized on Aug. 27, 2003. They became the first neighborhood to formally organize an association within the city of Russellville, according to city officials.

Meeting at the home of Jim and Jami Mullen, members adopted bylaws, set a monthly meeting date, created a mission statement and elected officials. Ed Moody served as the first president.

Concerns about the transition of property from private ownership to commercial purchase, along with the demolition of the 100-plus year old Patrick Home at 405 S. Commerce, prompted the group to unify.

The group’s main goals are to focus on restoration and preservation of some of the area’s oldest home, and to keep the neighborhood residential, rather than to allow it to be “bought up” by landlords not interested in maintaining, preserving or residing in the historic district.

The group recently sponsored an “Antique Roadshow” type event at the Depot. Members were encouraged to take items or photos of interest for appraisal by area experts Buford Smith, Carol Presley and Phyllis Carruth. Monies raised from association projects also will be used to fund an eventual historical survey of the neighborhood. The survey, which costs approximately $5,000 according to Mullen, is required in order to have the neighborhood listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Getting Russellville added to the National Registry could help in getting federal grants and funding for renovations to help preserve historic structures, officials have said.

Future improvements the group would like to see include installing street lights and sidewalks, added Mullen. Safety has always been a big issue, she explained. There is a large amount of non-resident foot traffic and littering that the association works to control.

“The neighborhood and the association have made great strides, especially in the last four years,” said Mullen. “Property values have increased greatly and, when property goes on the market now, members become proactive in recruiting great buyers and families interested in maintaining and preserving the property.”

Membership has grown from a handful of interested residents to include more than 50 households, said Jami Mullen, past president. R. E. Hodges serves the group as the current president.

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at the home of a member. Speakers of interest are frequently invited and have included special guests such as attorney Paul Dodds, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. Dodds discussed laws that affect historic areas, while another guest, Dr. Jim Collins, horticulturist at Arkansas Tech University, talked to the members about landscaping concerns.

One does not have to live in the historic district in order to be a member of the association. Dues are $25 per household per year and are open to anyone who has an interest in the preservation and restoration of the area’s heritage.

“It can be expensive but the cost of restoring a historic home is worth doing to preserve our heritage, our sense of community,” added Mullen. “Our motto is: ‘one house at a time.’”

Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association

“Members of the Old Town Historic Neighborhood Association just naturally gravitate toward each other,” said Jami Mullen, past president of the group. “We share common bonds, and an interest in and love of our historic Old Town Neighborhood.”

And one of those things that the members enjoy most often is food, said one member. In the early years, before the group was officially formed, it was block parties and potluck dinners that drew them together.

In keeping with that interest, members of the association are working toward the future compilation of Old Town Cookbook. The cookbook would contain recipes and photos from past and present homeowners.

“We’d like to get recipes from every household – all families should be included,” said Jami Mullen.

Funds generated from the sale of the cookbooks are to be used to fund an Old Town Scholarship to be awarded to a student who resides in, or has ties to, the neighborhood.

Anyone wishing to contribute recipes or photos for the cookbook are encouraged to contact Kathy Lumpkin, cookbook coordinator, at  890-5838, 707 S. Commerce.

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