St. Joseph's Home
aka: St. Joseph Center
St. Joseph’s Home sits on a summit overlooking North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and offers picturesque views of the Arkansas River and Pinnacle Mountain. Since 1910, the home has been a source of refuge for many Arkansans, children and elderly, as well as U.S. Army officers of World War I. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 4, 1976. Now called St. Joseph Center, it is home to a non-profit organization that offers urban farming opportunities.
The Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, under the directive of Bishop John Baptist Morris, built St. Joseph’s Home. On July 1, 1907, Morris purchased a 720-acre farm, which at the time, was about four miles north of what is now North Little Rock. (It now is within the city limits.) He contracted with Charles L. Thompson, a prominent Arkansas architect, to prepare the plans for St. Joseph’s, requesting the building be patterned like an Italian-style villa. In July 1908, Morris approved the use of diocesan funds to build the $80,000 orphanage. The outcome was a 56,000-square-foot brick and stone building that includes eighty rooms, an attic, and a basement. It features a chapel, classrooms, a kitchen and dining room, a bakery, and a laundry. The roof was laid with red tile and crowned with a dome. The dome’s lantern adorns a white cross. The building was completed in April 1910.
After the farmland was purchased in 1907, orphans were immediately housed in a small number of framed structures located on the farm. Bishop Morris wanted the Order of Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to manage and oversee St. Joseph’s. He offered the sisters free room and board, and after several years, Morris began to pay them $30 a month, which thereafter was increased annually. The Benedictine Sisters started a school for the orphans and neighboring children. When the doors of St. Joseph opened, sixty-six children moved in to occupy the three-story building. Thereafter, the number of housed and schooled children grew to a reported 300 in 1914.
In 1917, neighboring Camp Pike (now Camp Joseph T. Robinson) was expanding its facilities to accommodate tens of thousands of soldiers. The hub that developed just outside the camp was known as Belmont. The Belmont Hotel Company leased the orphanage building and 320 acres for three years as living quarters for officers, their wives, and friends. During that time, the orphanage and school were moved to a Catholic church in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
After the war, St. Joseph’s was restored to the diocese and operated as an orphanage until 1978. During those years, the sisters and volunteers maintained an extensive farm, rose garden, and fruit orchard and raised Holstein cows and hogs. St. Joseph’s then functioned as a daycare and kindergarten for local children until 1997, at which time the majority of the Benedictine sisters returned to their monastery. Two of the sisters stayed at St. Joseph’s until December 2007. The Diocese of Little Rock afterward used portions of the building for retreats. In 2010, the diocese signed a fifty-year lease for the building with St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, Inc. (SJCA), a non-profit organization seeking to preserve the structure and study possible uses for it.
In 2013, the property was named as an endangered historical structure by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. In September of that year, SJCA announced a deal to turn the building and its surrounding land into an agricultural, arts, and education center called the Farm & Food Innovation Center (FFIC). The FFIC dissolved in 2015, but several agricultural programs persist.
For additional information:
Carson, Janet B. “Green Acres.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 19, 2018, pp. 1E, 6E. Online at https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2018/may/19/green-acres-20180519/ (accessed December 27, 2022).
Fuentes, Laura. “Belmont Boom: Investigating an Ephemeral WWI Entertainment Center.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2020.
“Groups Lays Plans to Revitalize St. Joseph Home.” Arkansas Catholic, September 18, 2010. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/article.php?id=2287 (accessed March 28, 2022).
Hargett, Malea. “Diocese to Sell Former Orphanage Property.” Arkansas Catholic, January 12, 2008, pp.1, 6.
Hanson, Aprille. “FFIC Dissolves but Farming Continues at St. Joseph.” Arkansas Catholic, May 9, 2015. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/4228/FFIC-dissolves-but-farming-continues-at-St.-Joseph (accessed March 28, 2022).
———. “Leaders Refine Vision for St. Joseph Center’s Future.” Arkansas Catholic, August 14, 2020. Online at https://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/6631/Leaders-refine-vision-for-St-Joseph-Centers-future (accessed March 28, 2022).
Jenkins, Cary. “St. Joseph Center Holds Trove of History, Says Archaeologist.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 25, 2022, pp. 1D, 12D. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/dec/25/st-joseph-center-holds-trove-of-history-says/ (accessed December 27, 2022).
Spivey, Aprille Hanson. “Resurrection: St. Joseph Center Continues to Find New Life.” AY Magazine, April 2023, pp. 90–93. Online at https://aymag.com/resurrection-st-joseph-center/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
St. Joseph Center of Arkansas. http://www.stjosephcenter.org/ (accessed March 28, 2022).
“St. Joseph’s Home.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/!userfiles/PU3258.nr.pdf (accessed March 28, 2022).
Holly Tatom Tindall
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I was at St. Joseph’s Orphanage when I was four to five years old, along with a younger brother and two older sisters–around 1959 to 1960. Some of the first memories of my life were there. We were in the baby department and the boys’ department. My dad was in the U.S. Air Force at Little Rock Air Force Base and was divorced with four kids. We stayed at St. Joseph’s until we all went to Panama with my dad to his new assignment.
Please take a look at this drone video I made of St. Joseph’s in September of 2018. This building has great history and is absolutely beautiful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRxLGFOq9kM