Historic Washington Foundation

aka: Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation

The Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation was founded in 1958 to help preserve the community of Washington (Hempstead County). Later renamed the Historic Washington Foundation, it is the oldest historic preservation organization in Arkansas.

Following the Civil War, the community of Washington steadily declined in population. In 1939, the county seat of Hempstead County was moved from Washington to the larger community of Hope, which was more accessible by railroad. After World War II, citizens began looking for ways to help keep the community of Washington in existence. In 1951, local resident and ex-mayor Charlean Moss Williams completed her book, The Old Town Speaks, which presented many of the unique stories of the different residents who had lived in Washington. On April 29, 1958, concerned citizens of Washington came together at the local Baptist church to see what could be done to help preserve the community and its historic landmarks. Preservation efforts in St. Augustine, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia, were given as examples of what could be done in Washington. The meeting led to the formation of the Community Improvement Club and the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation.

After the formation of the foundation on May 27, 1958, Judge James H. Pilkinton was elected the first president of the organization. Pilkinton grew up in Washington and had a strong interest in its preservation. The first restored building of the nonprofit foundation was the home formerly owned by the first documented Jewish settler in Arkansas, Abraham Block. An executive director was appointed who was in charge of coordinating tours and programs for the foundation. The first director, Georgia Haynes, lived in the Block House and provided tours of the home to the public.

In 1959, William and Lucille King of Memphis, Tennessee, were the first major donors to help in the preservation efforts. They donated $30,000 to help complete the building of the Old Tavern building in 1960. After their deaths, portions of their estates were donated to the foundation to help form an endowment for the organization.

The James Black Blacksmith Shop was completed and dedicated in 1961. Other buildings were acquired and restored as the years went on, including the home of Simon T. Sanders and Grandison Royston. Volunteers and staff of the foundation conducted tours of the historic structures and homes for visitors to the area. Special programs were held on July 4 to bring awareness to the preservation of the town, and other festivals followed, such as the annual Jonquil Festival in the spring.

In 1965, the Arkansas General Assembly passed legislation creating a state park in the area. The foundation later succeeded in getting the community of Washington nominated as a National Register Historic District on June 20, 1972. On July 1, 1973, Old Washington Historic State Park, now known as Historic Washington State Park, opened its doors, and some historic properties owned by the foundation were transferred to Arkansas State Parks ownership.

Since that time, the foundation has worked closely with Arkansas State Parks in preserving other buildings in the community of Washington and surrounding area. The foundation owns some properties independently of Historic Washington State Park but works with Arkansas State Parks to provide tours of the buildings with the shared goal of preserving the history of Washington for future generations.

In 2023, the foundation renamed itself the Historic Washington Foundation. On January 26, 2024, Preserve Arkansas gave the foundation the 2023 Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement.

For additional information:
“Foundation to Restore Washington Organized.” Hope Star, May 28, 1958, p. 1.

“Old Buildings Are Dedicated at Washington.” Hope Star, June 1, 1961, p. 1.

Washburn, Alex. “Washington, Gateway to Southwest, Now Is a State Park.” Hope Star, July 23, 1973, p. 1.

Williams, Joshua. Images of America: Washington. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

Joshua Williams
Washington, Arkansas


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