OLD LOVES WE CALL HOME
Located at 514 North Sixth Street, the Clayton House was built during the 1850s but was enlarged and remodeled in 1882. It was the home of William H.H. Clayton.
Located in the Belle Grove Historic District, this home can be found along the 500 block of North Seventh Street.
Constructed in 1886, the Belle Grove Historic District has been restored to the Schoolhouse Apartments, which are available as rental units.
BY LARRY WILLIAMS // Times Record
The phrase, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” readily comes to mind when one strolls through the Belle Grove Historic District of Fort Smith. Some might describe many of the houses in this neighborhood as “old” or, if they want to soften the blow, they might say “older”. If they dig deep, they might even find their inner Realtor, and describe them as “turn-of- the-century,” because that is exactly what many of these home actually are.
Located two city blocks northwest of Fort Smith’s commercial downtown area, with Garrison Avenue filling the role of “Main Street”, Belle Grove contains 22 square blocks, and within those blocks, there’s a lot of history.“It’s really fun having people stand in the front yard, and to tell them about all of the history in this house and this area,” said Julie Moncrief, executive director of the Clayton House Museum, of the walking tours given by Clayton House.
The neighborhood was home to many early Fort Smith politicians, merchants, lawyers and bankers.Most famously, District Attorney William H. H. Clayton (b. 1840-d. 1920), who served 14 years in the court of Judge Isaac C. Parker, lived there. The Clayton House still stands today as a landmark and museum near the southern border of Belle Grove.“For many people, it is the highlight of the district,” said Moncrief.
The number of Victorian-era and Victorian-style homes left standing across the country is small, Moncrief says. Fortunately, Clayton House can count itself among that number. In fact, the entire Belle Grove area has one of the highest.
There’s no such thing as a “cookie- cutter” home in Belle Grove, with minor variations to differentiate between residences. Instead, each one was crafted with a distinct owner in mind.
The Belle Grove School, now Schoolhouse Apartments, is the 600 block of North 6th Street, and is the largest single structure in the neighborhood, acting as the centerpiece for the eclectic collection of homes.“During the Civil War, Union soldiers entered Fort Smith in 1863,” said Moncrief. “They occupied the school, and turned it into a hospital for wounded soldiers.”
Schoolhouse Apartments once served as the longest-standing public school in the city, serving a total of 90 years. In 1870, the city purchased the building that would become the city’s first public school for $10,000.
“A lot of homes in this area have so much history because so many of the city’s first leaders lived here,” said Moncrief.
While Belle Grove is no longer as high-profile as it was in its heyday, it’s a testament to the neighborhood and its residents that so many of the homes — especially in their original forms, with original materials — are left standing. It’s also a testament to the city of Fort Smith that its residents, even today, respect the past and want to preserve its history—and the unique flavor of one of its first neighborhoods.