By Don Hall
The earliest settler on record in Howard County was a Methodist minister from Tennessee named Tollett in 1819. Howard County was officially organized in 1873.
In 1973, a group of local residents led by newspaper publisher Louis “Swampy” Graves and high school English teacher Neva Byrd compiled the written history of Howard County. Wanting to maintain an accurate historical record, Graves and Byrd were joined by others in 1974 in starting the Howard County Heritage Club.
First Presbyterian Church of Nashville was founded in 1891. In 1912, the chapel was built by E.A. Williams on the corner of 2nd and Hempstead Streets. By 1971, there were not enough members to maintain the facility, and the church was closed. In 1974, the year of its founding, the Howard County Heritage Club purchased the building, and in 1976 it was added to the National Register of Historical Places.
The Heritage Club continued for years, but one by one members of that generation disappeared. The chapel at First Presbyterian sat abandoned for decades.
In 2012 Freddie Horne, now-retired teacher and principal at Nashville Junior High School, first entered the chapel. It had holes in the roof and was in a state of total disrepair. The chapel and the manse (parsonage) remained empty and unused for two more years, until the remaining members of the Heritage Club offered to donate it if a new historical group was formed. Enter the Howard County Historical Society, Inc., created in 2014, with Horne as president.
After three years of work and repair, the chapel at First Presbyterian Church was opened as the 1912 E.A. Williams Chapel/Museum. It is now filled with artifacts that tell the history of Howard County, and it remains a popular venue for weddings.
The original Nashville City Hall, Water Department, Library, Fire Department, and Continental Trailways office was built in 1930 on Sypert Street. The city buildings were sold to Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Cornish in 1970. They were converted to a residence, repair shop and the Continental Bus Station.
In 1983, John and Mary Lyons bought those buildings and lived in them for decades. In 2017, their heirs donated the property to the Historical Society.
Now known as the Lyons Center, it houses the offices of the Howard County Historical Society, including a records room and an artifacts room. The common area where you first enter is a large, warm, comfortable room, and is popular for club meetings, wedding showers, class reunions, political party meetings, and book clubs.
Susan Nannemann is the former director of Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs and also served as educational curator of the Texarkana Museum of Regional History. Nannemann and her husband Robert now own and operate Sunshine Acres Nursery just outside of Nashville. She also serves as the volunteer curator of the Howard County Historical Society. She can be found regularly working in the Artifacts Room, cataloging donations and preparing items for display.
According to Horne, the Historical Society is always looking for donations that are in some way connected to the history of Howard County, especially things related to trains, the bus station, the fire department, peach farming, and other types of agriculture. Nannemann says that the society also needs more volunteers to work with her in the Artifact Room.
Next on the agenda for the Historical Society is restoring the Presbyterian manse (parsonage) next to the chapel and preparing it for displays. It currently is used to store books, old printing presses from the Nashville News, other local artifacts, and a complete whiskey still from Umpire.
Plans are also in the works for upgrading the Stormy Blagg Train House and the restoration of the 1934 Dodge Brothers Fire Wagon. Each of these projects may take up to a year to complete.
Formed as a 501 (c) (3), the Howard County Historical Society, inc., receives grants from the Arkansas Department of Heritage and from Giving Tree in Texarkana. It also can receive tax-deductible donations from individuals or corporations.
The Museum System now has five buildings with two campuses. The museums are open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. or by appointment.
Visitors may browse the displays in the Lyons Center-Old City Hall and the E.A.Williams Chapel/Museum.
“Volunteers are always available and happy to serve as guides. Set aside two or three hours to make it through all the displays. School groups and grandparents with grandkids are frequent visitors,” Horne said.
Private tours for individuals or groups may be arranged with a phone call to Horne at 870-451-4288.