PHOTO | Tanner Gill
Pope County was originally founded in 1829, with Russellville established in the 1830s due to Arkansas’ growing cotton and coal industries, among other reasons. Scattered throughout the county are countless empty buildings and scattered fields, some appearing as old as the surrounding area itself. What might not be as apparent as the buildings’ damage or the fields’ age are their significance. These locations are tied directly to Pope county’s history and provide a unique glance into the past. One such location is the Norristown Cemetery, which serves as the last remaining part of the community of Norristown.
Though Norristown was once the county seat, the settlement has seemingly vanished, albeit temporarily. Most of the town had moved to Russellville in the 1870s. Due to the growing local railroad industry, the rest of the town was eroded by the Arkansas River over time. All that remains of the settlement is its cemetery. When searching for the cemetery, no indication of Norristown is visible.
The cemetery paths are overgrown, broken fences litter the perimeter, metal signs have been stained white from decades of sunlight, and both leaves and flowers cover most of the cemetery’s grounds. Almost all graves are hidden, covered in bright yellow flowers that scream from their somber surroundings. Scattered among the overgrown area are a few headstones, most of which have been degrading for over a century.
It’s been a long time since the cemetery has had visitors. The oldest of the headstones is marked with 1853, only 34 years after Pope county was originally founded. Some of the cemetery’s graves contain people who were older than Pope county itself. The headstones themselves are all uniquely scarred, and the majority of them are overturned or lost in the surrounding brush.
Among the headstones still standing is one of M. Brearley, born over two centuries ago in 1811. With the date on the epitaph showing 1853, Brearley could potentially be the cemetery’s first tragic inclusion. Brearley’s headstone may also be the last physical evidence that the town of Norristown ever existed.
The next stop on the historical landmark tour is the Confederate Mothers’ Memorial, continuing from Norristown Cemetery. The park’s land was donated in 1921, with plans for multiple monuments and other amenities to be added later. Of the planned additions, only one monument was added, with the park’s original granite slab being taken down sometime in the following decades. Only one stone tablet remains visible from the group of the original monuments. The stone tablet is almost hidden amongst the surrounding forest and hills, seemingly lost in the park and its surrounding woods.
The park’s paths that lead to the memorial are thin and flanked by tiny red flags on either side. There is no discernible pattern to the scattered rocks and dirt clearings, making it harder to visit than initially anticipated. After careful navigating, the tablet becomes visible among the scattered trees and hillsides surrounding the crudely made path.
Looking at the tablet tricks the visitor at first, as the monument is in such disrepair that parts of its original inscription are indecipherable. The stone’s face is severely damaged, sporting a plethora of random words and initials (seemingly from previous visitors to the site) across its entire cold surface. Luckily, part of the original inscription remains legible, identifying the peculiar tablet’s original purpose.
The park was originally donated to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in June of 1921. The idea was to honor the lives of Confederate soldiers lost during the American Civil War and to dedicate a monument to the future generations to come. After adding the stone tablet, other improvements were planned but ultimately never followed through with. All that remains of the original construction are the pillars that helped create the park’s entrance and the inscribed stone monument hidden in the trees. Among the faded words remains half of the final sentence. Though one can only guess at the original inscription from a glance, the words “…dedicated to the happiness of the children of our united country” still remain.
Just a short drive from the Confederate Mother’s Memorial is the next and final stop of the historical tour, the Latimore Tourist Home.
Originally constructed sometime before 1913, the house is historically significant due to its presence in Victor Hugo Green’s famous motorist’s “Green Book.” Serving as a travel guide of sorts for African Americans during the Jim Crow era, the Green Book was instrumental in helping travelers avoid a potential tragedy.
Initially, when passing the Latimore House, it’s hard to see anything other than a decaying house with a mint green roof. Though each of these locations is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Latimore House faces a unique situation, as it is in the midst of a relocation effort. A local group known as the Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home is currently raising money to have the historic location moved.
One of the group’s members, Pope County Historian and Digital and Special Collections Librarian for Arkansas Tech Charity Park, provided insight into the relocation effort and the Latimore house’s historical significance.
“The people who owned it were Eugene and Cora Latimore. They were the ones who opened their doors to travelers for many years,” said Park regarding the house’s name. “They took them in and did this from 1939 to the 1970s. Eugene lived to be well over 100 and was a veterinarian.”
Eugene Latimore passed away in 1980, at almost 110 years old. His wife and fellow host to travelers from far and wide, Cora Latimore, passed away on her 95th birthday in 1990. Though they may be gone, the legacy they left behind won’t be forgotten.
Park went on to mention the current difficulties regarding the Latimore house and its current owners, New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church.
“Someone donated the house to the church. The church can’t afford to renovate it. It’s a huge expense. So it’s just been sitting there, falling apart. I can tell you some of the beautiful parts of the porch were taken off and stored because we plan to renovate this house.”
Though the house may be considered “endangered,” the Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home aren’t giving up on it yet, with plans to relocate and restore the house in the future. Visiting the house in person, the need for renovations and relocation becomes readily apparent.
Since the Latimores’ passing, the house hasn’t had dedicated owners in some time. The house is in disrepair, with its powerful legacy hidden under its decaying exterior and overgrown yard. Considered to be one of Arkansas’ most endangered properties, the Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home’s efforts may be the house’s last chance at a lasting legacy.
Walking up to the house, the reality of this fading historical site sinks in. The grass is overgrown, the steps to the porch are warped, and the house is entirely closed off.
The porch is in disarray as its floor’s planks are warped, broken, or missing entirely. The white paint that coated the modest house’s walls is chipped and faded, leaving behind an echo of the house’s former beauty. Also scattered among the house’s front door and its surroundings are a cluster of bug nests, nails, and other telltale signs of its age.
Entering the house is impossible, with every conceivable entrance being boarded up with plywood panels of differing sizes. There is no light coming from the house, as even its windows now sport wood instead of glass. Walking around the house doesn’t add any initial insight into the historical location but rather serves as a grim reminder that nothing physical lasts forever. The house’s legacy, however, is a different story.
After learning about the Latimore house’s history, it’s impossible to see the house’s disrepair and decay. Instead, what you see is a genuine piece of history that shouldn’t be allowed to fade away.
Much like Norristown Cemetery and the Confederate Mother’s Memorial, the Latimore House is a reminder of our history and how far Pope county has come since its original establishment in 1829. To lose any of these sites would be to lose Pope county’s history and forget the centuries of dedication and effort that helped make our community what it is today.
If you’re interested in donating to the Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home and their relocation effort, you can donate online at www.latimoretouristhome.org.