Big Flat School Gymnasium

The Big Flat School Gymnasium, located on State Highway 14 in Big Flat (Baxter and Searcy counties), was built between 1938 and 1941 with assistance from the National Youth Administration (NYA), a Depression-era federal relief agency. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 19, 1993.

Though the town of Big Flat was not incorporated until 1939, the Big Flat School District existed before that, being the thirty-second district organized in Baxter County and hosting three teachers and 137 students by 1931. By 1938, local residents decided a gymnasium was needed to serve the students and community, and they sought support from the NYA, which hired people aged fourteen to thirty, both male and female, to work on public projects. In July 1938, the Baxter Bulletin reported that construction of a new gym that “will be built by NYA labor, and will probably be about 70×110 and made of native stone” was expected to start within thirty days. In August, the newspaper reported that NYA officials were signing up workers for the project and in October stated that “some work has commenced on the gym…but greater activity will take place soon.”

Construction, supervised by H. B. Griffith, was underway by spring 1939, with the Bulletin writing that “work on the new gym near the school building here is going on in good shape at present.” The $40,000 project continued into 1940, and the newspaper noted in May that “the building is expected to be ready for use by the time the next school term opens though there will probably be some work done after that time, before the structure is entirely completed.” In December it was reported the “a large force of young men…are at work on our gym, an NYA project at present.”

Supervisor Griffith died during construction and was replaced by his son Clifton, which may account for “a lay off of several months,” as the Bulletin reported in July 1940. The building was finally completed in 1941, a sturdy stone structure reflecting the Craftsman style of architecture. The National Register nomination notes, “With the abundance of local stone throughout the Ozark region and its long-standing stone masonry construction tradition, a cut stone masonry gymnasium fulfilled the design and construction ethos of the NYA. While it is admittedly of plain and unornamented design, the Big Flat Gymnasium remains a representative example of this philosophy, and so a reminder of that era and the creative architectural solutions it produced.”

The gymnasium served students for forty-four years until the Big Flat School District was consolidated with the district at Fifty-Six (Stone County) in 1985 to form the Tri-County Consolidated School District. The building was rehabilitated with Arkansas Historic Preservation Program grants of $16,835 in 2003, $10,000 in 2004, and $41,760 in 2010 and continues to serve Big Flat as a community center in the twenty-first century.

For additional information:
“Big Flat.” Baxter Bulletin, October 7, 1938, p. 4.

“Big Flat.” Baxter Bulletin, May 12, 1939, p. 4.

“Big Flat.” Baxter Bulletin, July 19, 1940, p. 3.

“Big Flat.” Baxter Bulletin, December 13, 1940, p. 2.

“Big Flat Constructing $40,000 Gym and Making Other Improvements.” Baxter Bulletin, May 3, 1940, p. 5.

Cothren, Zackery, “Big Flat Gymnasium.” Baxter County History 31 (July–September 2005): 81.

“Gymnasium for Big Flat.” Baxter Bulletin, July 29, 1938, p. 1.

“Local.” Baxter Bulletin, August 12, 1938, p. 4.

Story, Kenneth. “Big Flat School Gymnasium.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/BA0071.nr.pdf (accessed November 18, 2019).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 11/18/2019