Walks through history tour set for saturday

PERRYVILLE — The Perry County Courthouse has long been the hub of business in downtown Perryville, which is the county seat of government. Citizens do business there every day.

But how many know that the courthouse, which was built in 1888, is the fifth structure to serve in that capacity? Or that it was built with red bricks, which are now painted white? Or that those bricks were made from Perry County clay?

And how many residents know Perry County was established in 1840 as the 44th county in the state, or that it was named in honor of Naval Commodore Oliver H. Perry, a hero of the War of 1812 who apparently had no known connection to the county?

It’s facts such as these that will come to light Saturday when Rachel Silva, preservation outreach coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, conducts a Walks Through History Tour in the Perryville Commercial Historic District, which is bounded roughly by Aplin, Magnolia, Main and Plum streets. The free tour is co-sponsored by the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society.

Those interested in learning more about the history of the district are invited to meet Silva at 11 a. m. Saturday at the Perry County Historical Museum, 408 Main St. The tour will last about two hours.

Silva said the Perryville Commercial Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. The Perry County Courthouse and the Perry County Historical Museum, which is the old Perryville American Legion Building, are also listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse was listed in 1976, and the American Legion Building, which was built in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), was listed in 1990.

Buford Joseph Suffridge Jr. and Lynda Suffridge, who now live in North Little Rock but still maintain a residence in Perryville, will be among those attending the event. Buford, who grew up in Perryville, is president of the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society. Lynda recently retired after 17 years as editor of the organization’s newsletter. Both were instrumental in compiling Perry County, Arkansas: Its Land and People, which was published by the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society in 2004.

“Every time I do a tour, I try to find a local person to walk around with me beforehand to share stories and memories about businesses/buildings,” said Silva, who met recently with the Suffridges.

“These interviews often add interesting information to the primary and secondary source material I consult to write my tour scripts.

“Of course, Buford and Lynda will be there for the tour,” Silva said.

“I was born in Morrilton but we moved to Perryville in 1942,” Buford Suffridge said. “I graduated from Perryville High School in 1958.”

He is the son of the late Buford Suffridge Sr. and Catherine Suffridge. Buford Suffridge Sr. ran a sawmill in Perryville.

“We moved to Perryville because my dad was afraid he couldn’t get gas and tires to get to his sawmill here,” Buford Suffridge Jr. said. “That was during World War II.

“My dad built the first library in Perryville. It’s where the Perry County Cooperative Extension Service is now. It was built in the 1950s or ’60s. He also built a wing on the courthouse. H. L. Kimbrough built the other wing.”

Suffridge said Kimbrough also built a hotel in the downtown area — the Hotel Kim, which was a two-story structure with a restaurant, the Kim Café, on the bottom floor.

“It later became a nursing home,” Suffridge said. “Then 20 years or so ago, they took off the top story, which was wooden; the bottom story was block. At one time it was even a Western Auto store.”

That building still stands at 113 N. Plum St.

Silva said Perryville once had two theaters.

“The Rainbow Theater/New Theater was located in the northern portion of the Flewellen Building at the northeast corner of Main and Pine streets on the east side of the courthouse square,” she said. “The theater portion of the building had mixed masonry walls (stone and brick), as well as a decorative arch above the front entrance with Coke-bottle ends set in the masonry wall.”

Silva said the second theater, the Fourche Theater, was in a two-story, concrete block building at 208 Main St.

For information on the Walks Through History tours, call the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program at (501) 324-9880; write the agency at 323 Center St., Suite 1500, Little Rock, AR 72201; email info@arkansaspreservation. org; or visit www. arkansaspreservation. com/blog or www. arkansaspreservation. org.

The American Institute of Architects offers two Health, Safety and Welfare continuing-education learning unit credits for members who attend a Walks Through History tour.

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