On the first Friday of every month, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) hosts an event for curious citizens and history buffs. I fall into both categories – I like having the opportunity to visit new places and enjoy learning about the historical makeup of central Arkansas.
Maybe not a bona fide buff, but flipping through weathered pages and learning how towns got their name or who is buried at Mount Holly are things that interest me. Thankfully, there are more people like me and the AHPP organizes ‘Sandwiching in History’ allowing interested souls to tour historic structures and sites we’ve passed a hundred times and know nothing about.
On June 3, the lunchtime history lesson took place at Johnswood at 10314 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Johnswood was the name given to the home of two famous Arkansas authors – John Gould Fletcher and his wife, Charlie May Simon.
According to the press release, the Minimal Traditional-style homestead was designed by architect Max Mayer for the couple and completed around 1941. The emailed press release went on to say that Fletcher was a leading poet of the early twentieth century Imagist movement. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his Selected Poems and in 1946 was designated the first Poet Laureate of Arkansas.
Simon was also a successful writer who published 29 works, including two autobiographical novels, an adult novel, eight biographies and the many children’s books for which she was best known.
Fletcher was born in Little Rock on Jan. 3, 1886 to a cotton broker and an artistic mother who specialized in music. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, the young Fletcher was tutored along side his two sisters and rarely allowed to leave the grounds of the antebellum mansion he grew up in. Due to his strict upbringing, he developed a dense imagination while reading Poe, Coleridge and Goethe. He enrolled at Harvard, but after his father’s death, he was financially able to quit school, write and travel.
Even though he left Harvard and his father’s wishes of becoming a businessman or a lawyer, one thing followed: his bipolar disorder. The illness first reared its ugly head during his collegiate years. In 1913, Fletcher settled in London and met Ezra Pound, the prominent American poet. The Encyclopedia said that Pound encouraged Fletcher’s free-verse experiments and introduced him toe Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry magazine. He traveled back and forth between America and London often and during one visit to London, he married Florence Emily “Daisy” Arbuthnot.
He eventually came back to the States, divorced and severely depressed. Fletcher found strength in Charlie May Simon and married her on Jan. 18, 1936. After living in New York, Santa Fe and New Hampshire, they built Johnswood.
According to the Sandwiching in History lecture, when the home was built, it was on the western edge of Little Rock and the nearest neighbor was eight to nine miles away. Around this time, Fletcher received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Selected Poems (1938). He was the first Southern poet to receive this honor. Although his work received one of the highest honors, his readership started to dwindle and his health suffered, which only fueled his depression. On May 10, 1950, the award-winning poet drowned himself in a shallow pool near Johnswood.
Simon, born in Monticello, continued to live in the couple’s home in between her travels and writing adventures. She died on March 21, 1977 and was buried by her husband in the Mount Holly Cemetery.
If you have a hankering for Arkansas history, please note the following information about the upcoming SIH tours:
• July 8 – Sylvan Hills Country Club Golf Course, 7400 Highway 107, Sherwood
• August 5 – Federal Reserve Bank Building, 123 West 3rd Street, Little Rock
• September 9 – Winfield Methodist Church (Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church), 1601 South Louisiana Street, Little Rock
• October 7 – St. Joseph’s Home, 6800 Camp Robinson Road, North Little Rock • November 4 – Edgar B. Moseley House, 415 Willow Street, North Little Rock
• December 2 – Union Station, 1400 West Markham Street, Little Rock
All tours are free and open to the public. For information, call the AHPP at (501) 324-9880, write the agency at 1500 Tower Building, 323 Center St., Little Rock, AR 72201, send an e-mail message to email@example.com, or visit the agency Web site at www.arkansaspreservation.org.
The AHPP is the Department of Arkansas Heritage agency responsible for identifying, evaluating, registering and preserving the state’s cultural resources. Other agencies are the Arkansas Arts Council, the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, the Old State House Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Historic Arkansas Museum.