Benjamin Clayton Black House
The Benjamin Clayton Black House, located at 300 East Race Street in Searcy (White County), is one of the few remaining landmarks of early Victorian architecture in Arkansas. The original structure, built just prior to the Civil War, was a one-story, two-room house with a common fireplace. Its later form, a two-story frame house with an elaborately detailed two-story veranda, is the result of extensive modifications and remodeling begun by Benjamin Clayton Black in 1872. The yellow house stands a few blocks from the town square, serving as a colorful reminder of Searcy’s past. The Benjamin Clayton Black House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1974.
In early 1866, Benjamin Clayton Black purchased four adjoining lots, including the one on which the small original structure stood. In March 1866, Black married Holly Rosamond Jones, and the couple honeymooned in New Orleans, Louisiana. The city’s architectural style had a deep impact on the Blacks. For several years, they lived in the antebellum two-room house, but in 1872 they began an expansion and remodeling project influenced by their trip. Black added new rooms to the first floor and built an entire second floor, connected by an ornate wooden staircase that he imported from France by way of New Orleans. The staircase, which remains a focal point of the house, was shipped upriver and transported over land to Searcy. By 1874, the two-story clapboard house was finished; eight years later, Black rebuilt some of the six original porches and plastered some of the interior walls. The final layout of the house consists of a central hall with two rooms on one side and a single room on the other. The central hall extends to the rear of the house and connects to a semi-detached kitchen. Portions of the flooring and interior walls are likely original to the house in its first state.
The house’s architectural value is shown in its detailed ornamental woodwork, particularly the two-story veranda that dominates the entry façade. Paired chamfered posts in a three-bay setting support the second-story porch floor, while single matching posts in a seven-bay setting support the porch roof. Ornamental latticework between the posts creates an arcade effect. The cloverleaf pattern that appears in the latticework is present in the windows as well. The window openings extend to floor level on both stories, and the entablature of the house is continuous about the veranda.
The ornate exterior details continue in the interior, in features such as elaborate molded trim, large baseboards, and ornamented Victorian door hinges. Fireplaces are framed by fluted pilasters, a plain frieze, and a simple mantel shelf. The Black House property also has a carriage and stable shelter located to the rear of the house.
Benjamin Clayton Black gained local fame for his service to the Confederacy during the Civil War. He enlisted at age eighteen but was discharged after a long illness in Kentucky. After returning to Searcy, Black was commissioned to raise a company attached to the Forty-Eighth Arkansas Cavalry Regiment. His troops surrendered at Searcy in March 1865. Following the war, Black entered into business, forming Searcy Branch Railroad Company, which built a wooden track with two horse-drawn cars running from Searcy to the main track at Kensett (White County). He also became active in Democratic Party politics, serving as mayor of Searcy, White County sheriff, and chairman of the Democratic Central Committee. He also served a six-year term on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.
The Benjamin Clayton Black House remained in the Black family until Lorena Black, the last surviving of the eleven children, died in 1979 at the age of 101. The house was purchased by the Rodgers family, who later deeded the property to the City of Searcy. The property became home to the Searcy Arts Council in 1999.
For additional information:
“Arkansas Listings in the National Register.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 41 (Summer 1982): 172–173.
“Benjamin Clayton Black House.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/WH0027.nr.pdf (accessed December 9, 2019).
Garrett, Tammy. “Historic Black House adds Southern charm to Searcy.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 13, 2014. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2014/apr/13/historic-black-house-adds-southern-charm-searcy/ (accessed December 9, 2019).
Henderson State University
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