Horace Mann School Historic District
The Horace Mann School Historic District at Norfork (Baxter County) is a complex of four buildings constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and National Youth Administration (NYA) during the Great Depression. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 29, 2007.
The first school at Norfork was established in 1908, two years before the town was incorporated, but by the 1930s, the wood-frame school was no longer adequate for the area’s educational needs. The community turned to the WPA, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies, for assistance.
Construction of the Main School Building started in 1936 under the direction of WPA supervisor Tom Collier, with the federal agency supplying $18,564 and the community raising $3,996 for the project. The resulting building is a single-story, Craftsman-style building covered in buff-colored fieldstone and sporting red-brick quoins, chimney, belt course, and door and window surrounds. It was completed in September 1937 and named for public education advocate Horace Mann. The main building also has a basement, which housed a hot-meal program for students using government commodities and vegetables from a school garden. The Baxter Bulletin observed, “It is one of the very, very few schools in the state that serve a free noonday hot lunch to every pupil.”
Another New Deal Agency, the NYA, helped with the next two buildings in the complex. The Agricultural Vocational Education Building was constructed beginning in 1937, a $5,000 project for which local sources contributed $700. The single-story building is also sheathed in buff-colored fieldstone. Construction of the Home Economics Building began by early 1939 and was completed the same year. The single-story building is designed in the Craftsman style and clad in fieldstone. It features a cornerstone inscribed: ERECTED BY / NATIONAL YOUTH / ADMINISTRATION / IN COOPERATION WITH / NORFORK SCHOOL DISTRICT / MEMBERS OF THE BOARD / JACK BONNER, PRES. / E. E. FARRIER, SECY. / TOM LACKEY / JOHN SOUTHERD / PAUL HOGAN. The Home Economics Building cost $5,000, of which $1,300 came from local sources. A library opened in the building’s living room in 1940.
The final building erected in the Horace Mann School Historic District using New Deal labor was the gymnasium/auditorium, constructed in 1940. Government sources supplied $20,000 for labor and materials, while Norfork School District No. 61 put around $4,000 into the project. The Craftsman-style structure, located across from the Main School Building, was built using gray fieldstone. According to the Baxter Bulletin, it had a standard playing court, bleacher space along the front or west side for 300 people, and a large stage in the middle of the opposite side with two classrooms on either side of the stage. The Bulletin article stated that the NYA was building the structure with Ord Rouse as the foreman, but the National Register nomination claims it was constructed with WPA labor. An addition of a lobby and concession area was built in 1990 onto the building’s front façade, using the same style as the original building.
In the 1980s, Norfork’s student population outgrew the facilities in the Horace Mann School Historic District, and a new school was built, after which the City of Norfork acquired all of the buildings in the original school complex. In the twenty-first century, the gymnasium houses a youth center, while the second story of the Main School Building holds a community center and the first floor is used for various community events. The Home Economics and Agriculture Vocational Education Buildings, which were stabilized in part with grants from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, are not in use as of 2019.
For additional information:
Bradbury, Linda, “Horace Mann School.” Baxter County History 35 (January–June 2009): 35–38.
“Cotter and Norfork Have New Buildings.” Baxter Bulletin, August 21, 1936, p. 1.
Hinton, Donna, “Horace Mann School Historic District.” 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/BA0147.nr.pdf (accessed July 18, 2019).
“Norfork School Has Built Several New Buildings.” Baxter Bulletin, May 3, 1940, p. 2.
“The Norfork School Is One of Finest in This Section.” Baxter Bulletin, June 2, 1939, p. 1.
“Vote for Construction of New Gym at Norfork.” Baxter Bulletin, February 23, 1940, p. 1.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
Last Updated: 09/01/2022