Richard Colburn Butler III (1937–2020)

Richard Colburn Butler III was a noted historic preservationist who saved historic buildings in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Washington (Hempstead County) and was active with organizations promoting preservation and Arkansas history.

Richard Colburn Butler III was born at Trinity Hospital in Little Rock on September 21, 1937, the son of Richard C. Butler Jr. and Gertrude Marjorie Remmel Butler (the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies is named for his father). He graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1955, after which he attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, earning an AB in history in 1959. Butler was a student at the University of Arkansas School of Law, receiving an LLB in 1962, and later earned a trust diploma from the Southern Methodist University Southwestern Graduate School of Banking. Butler also served in the U.S. Army Reserves for six years with the 431st Civil Affairs Company.

He practiced law at Little Rock’s House Holmes & Jewell firm from 1963 to 1968 prior to taking a position as a trust officer at Commercial National Bank, where he would work for thirteen years. Butler then worked as an administrator for CONTACT, an ecumenical telephone ministry, until 1984. Following that, he worked for eighteen years as the personal assistant to philanthropist Lucy Lockett Cabe. A Republican in what, for most of his life, was a Democratically controlled state, Butler was a member of the Republican committees of Arkansas and of Pulaski County’s Second Congressional District. He also served stints on the Pulaski County Election Commission from 1966 to 1968 and 1984 to 1986.

Butler became involved in historic preservation in Little Rock in the 1960s and embarked on his first restoration project in 1976, eventually owning, restoring, or maintaining all of the buildings on the south side of the 400 block of East 10th Street. He split his time between Little Rock and Washington, where he lived in the 1842 Noel Owen Neal Log House after moving it from a site near Nashville (Howard County) and restoring it. He maintained the dual locations until 2018.

Other noteworthy preservation projects in which Butler was involved included the First Hotze House in Little Rock and Palmer’s Folly, an elaborate 1870s Italianate building that Butler was restoring with his business partner, Jeremy Carroll. As its restoration neared completion, the building was destroyed in May 2013 when a fire broke out in an electrical breaker box.

In addition to hands-on preservation work, Butler was active in numerous historic preservation and history organizations. In 1968, he was a founding member of the Quapaw Quarter Association (QQA) in Little Rock, also serving on the organization’s board of directors. He was also an active member of the boards of the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, the Arkansas Genealogical Society, the Pulaski County Historical Society, the Arkansas Pioneers Association, the Oakland-Fraternal Cemetery Board, Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (which later became Preserve Arkansas). He was also a longtime member of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s State Review Committee for Historic Preservation, including several terms as chairman, and a life member of the Pulaski County Historical Society. A lifelong Methodist, he served on several committees of Little Rock’s First United Methodist Church.

Butler was recognized for his preservation efforts, receiving a preservation award from Preserve Arkansas and an Award of Merit from the QQA for his work on the First Hotze House in 2001. In 2003, the QQA presented him its Jimmy Strawn Award for “efforts on the behalf of the preservation of Little Rock’s heritage [that were] an inspiration to the entire community.” In 2019, the Daughters of the American Revolution honored him with the National Historic Preservation Medal.

Butler died on June 4, 2020. He is buried in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.

For additional information:
Bowden, Bill. “Richard Colburn Butler III: For Preservationist, Past Held Great Value.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 7, 2020, p. 3B.

Obituary of Richard Colburn Butler III. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 7, 2020, p. 1K.

“Special Tribute to Richard Butler, 1937–2020.” Quapaw Quarter Chronicle 2, no. 5 (2020).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 12/11/2020

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