Plans are underway to move the Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville 2½ blocks up the street to a new location this summer.
Then hopefully the historic but dilapidated house can be restored.
“Really, this is a last ditch effort, and I think it’s going to be really successful,” said Betsy McGuire, vice chair of the board of Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home, a nonprofit that has raised $167,000 to help save the structure.
Built at the turn of the 20th century, the two-story Latimore House functioned as a tourist residence from the late 1930s until the 1970s.
“Run by Eugene Latimore and Cora Wilson Latimore and their daughter Anna, the house provided short-term lodging for African Americans, many of whom worked on the railroad,” according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia. “Eugene Latimore also worked as a veterinarian.”
In Jim Crow times, black people traveling in the South in particular could have trouble finding places to eat, sleep, buy gas or get a haircut. Victor H. Green and Co. of New York began publishing The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936, a list of businesses friendly to black customers.
“With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, our idea has been to give the black traveler information which will prevent him from encountering difficulties, embarrassments and to make his journeys more pleasant”, reads the introduction to the 1949 Green Book.
Latimore House was listed in annual editions of the Green Book published from 1939 to 1966 and was the only listed accommodation for black travelers between North Little Rock and Fort Smith from 1948 to 1966. Publication of the Green Book was suspended during the World War II, but resumed in 1947.
“Bring your Green Book with you… You might need it!” read the words on the front of the books.
Two cities in Arkansas — Little Rock and Hot Springs — stood out in the Green Papers for having many businesses welcoming black travelers. Arkadelphia, Camden, El Dorado, Hope, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana also had several businesses that catered to black travelers in the mid-20th century.
But that was not the case in the Arkansas River Valley between Fort Smith and North Little Rock, according to Green Books listings.
Russellville’s Latimore House is located at 318 S. Houston Ave., a few blocks south and west of US 64, the main freeway connecting Little Rock to Fort Smith before the Interstate was built 40.
The New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the property where the Latimore House currently stands, needs the land for expansion, McGuire said.
Richard Harris became mayor of Russellville in 2019 and soon began looking for a solution for the Latimore house.
“If the house had no historical significance, the city would have already condemned it and probably razed it,” he said.
Harris said the church was not interested in preserving the house where it stands, so he asked the clergy if they would donate the house to the city so it could be moved. Eventually they agreed to do it.
Another church — The Bridge Church — donated two vacant lots to the relocation site, McGuire said. She said additional adjacent land could be purchased.
The new site is at the corner of Houston and Fifth streets, across Houston Street from James School Park, once the site of a school for black students.
On Friday, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program announced 41 statewide grants, including a $34,667 grant to help with Phase I of the Latimore Tourist Home project.
“Phase I is to move the house,” McGuire said. “Then the hard work of restoration and rehabilitation will take place.”
Phase I is estimated at $77,000, according to the grant application. In addition to the cost of $20,000 to physically move the house, Phase I includes $25,000 to purchase additional property, $10,000 for engineering and site preparation, $12,000 to rebuild the original foundation at the new location and $10,000 for other expenses, including installation of utilities.
McGuire said she hopes to be able to physically move the house in August.
She said Phase II, the restoration, could cost $1 million, so fundraising efforts will continue. Many companies donate their time and expertise.
“The community really seems to have embraced this project with open arms,” McGuire said.
She said it was a public-private partnership and the new Latimore House site would become city property.
McGuire, who is also chairwoman of the Russellville Historic District Commission, said she’s unsure how the house will be used after it moves in and is restored, although it could be used as a meeting or event center. .
“I would love to see them make it a bed-and-breakfast and put it on the Civil Rights Trail,” Harris said. “I think that would be a big draw for the town of Russellville.”
The grant application included five letters of recommendation. One was from Corliss Williamson, a Russellville native and former NBA basketball player and coach, who wrote that he was “born and raised in the community of James School Park.”
“I attribute much of my personal and professional success to the community where I grew up,” Williamson wrote. “Growing up, the life lessons I learned at James School Park were invaluable. My peers and I gained a sense of community pride and the honor of representing it. Latimore House would serve as a bridge to connect today’s youth to the past. It would be a historical landmark and a representation of the history of our black community in Russellville.”
In his letter, Randy Hendrix, Chairman of the Board of Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home, wrote that he was a permanent resident of the neighborhood. He remembered when the roads were dirt and there were no parks.
“We are proud of the history we have in our community, and the Latimore House is part of that history that needs to be saved, not just for the memory of the Latimores, but for what they stood for, not just for our community. , but city, and not just for our city, for our state,” Hendrix wrote.
Victor Green died in 1960, and the Green Book ceased publication in 1967, shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened public facilities (at least in theory) to all Americans.
A 2018 film titled “Green Book” brought attention to historical travel guides.
2 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
In 2018, Preserve Arkansas listed the Latimore home as one of the ten most endangered properties in the state: https://bit.ly/3yjbw0F.
To view the Green Papers online, go to https://on.nypl.org/2DoXpO5.
For more on Eugene and Cora Latimore, see https://bit.ly/3HVRMn5.