The Damascus Gymnasium, located on State Highway 285 just north of the Faulkner/Van Buren County line in Damascus, is a single-story, wood-frame building constructed in 1933 and designed in the Craftsman style of architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 4, 1992.
The first school in Damascus was established in 1881 by neighbors in the community who held classes in a brush arbor. That rustic setting served until 1889 when summer and winter terms were held in the new Baptist church. In 1900, a two-story, four-room schoolhouse was constructed. When a high school was built in 1910, a School Improvement Association was formed to finance an eight-month term of classes. The Damascus school joined the Southside Consolidated System in 1926.
A new gymnasium was erected in 1933 to serve area students, but its origins are unclear. While the National Register nomination form states that it was constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), that federal relief agency was not established in Arkansas until 1935. Records from New Deal agencies active in 1933 do not show any work in Damascus or in the Southside district, and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp 3781 was not established in Damascus until 1935.
Regardless of who built it, the Damascus Gymnasium is a handsome, weatherboard-clad structure with shed roofs at its eastern and western ends. A two-story clerestory rises over the building’s center, and entry is provided by a projecting central porch on the east elevation and a pair of entrances on both the south and west sides of the building. Exposed rafter tails and ornamental brackets provide the signature Craftsman-style ornamentation.
The building is owned by Damascus’s First Baptist Church and is used for church functions in the twenty-first century.
For additional information:
Baker, William D. Public Schools in the Ozarks, 1920–1940. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1990. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/News-and-Events/publications (accessed April 20, 2022).
Brown, William A. “Damascus.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 6 (Spring 1964):5–16.
Ryman, Eleanor Bowling, ed. Van Buren County History. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1982.
Zollner, Patrick. “Damascus 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/VB0028.nr.pdf (accessed January 8, 2020).
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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