Telephone Exchange Building (Powhatan)

The Telephone Exchange Building is the oldest commercial building still standing in Powhatan (Lawrence County) in the twenty-first century and visually represents the commercial and civic characteristics of the town during the nineteenth century.

The Powhatan Telephone Exchange Building is a one-story brick building that reflects Greek Revival architecture and design. The building was constructed between 1887 and 1888, placed in the heart of the thriving town where commerce, business, and social interaction took place. The Telephone Exchange Building is a rectangular structure with long, straight, flat sides. There are no windows on the south side, and the north side has two windows like those on the front of the building. The design style of the time called for buildings and businesses to be lined up next to one another, making the space between each structure small. Consequently, the need for design was minimal other than the Greek Revival front. The Telephone Exchange Building was built in reflection of the courthouse, both of which stand out in architectural style.

The lot on which the Telephone Exchange Building resides once housed a two-story wooden-frame store. The lot became available after an 1875 fire burned down the store along with close to a dozen other business buildings on the block. The Telephone Exchange Building was owned by brothers Max and J. P. Coffin, but it is not known if they were also the builders. The Coffin brothers rented it out to businesses while being the shareholders of the Telephone Exchange. As the Telephone Exchange Building is next to the river, flooding can be a problem when it rains heavily.

The Telephone Exchange Building functioned as a general store, post office, and telephone exchange. It remained a telephone exchange building until 1902, when a hail storm tore down many phone lines between Powhatan, Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County), and Smithville (Lawrence County) and damaged the building. After the storm, the building was no longer used as a phone exchange.

After the phone exchange was removed, the back section of the building served as a post office until 1930, when the post office was removed and the building became a private residence. Preceding the post office, the building accommodated various businesses, including a drugstore, a general grocery store, an attorney’s office, and possibly a wagon factory. Lastly, it became a residence until the 1970s, when the owner sold it to a buyer who donated it to the Lawrence County Historical Society. The owner’s willingness to donate the building was motivated by the determination of the historical society to have the building restored.

The Telephone Exchange Building is one of the historical buildings used for tours and other park functions as an exhibit of the Powhatan Historic State Park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 16, 1989.

For additional information:
Anderson, Mary Ann, and Ken Story. Settlement of Lawrence County and Powhatan, 1803–1890. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, n.d.

———. “Telephone Exchange Building.” National Register of Historic Places registration form, 1989. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/LW0042.nr.pdf (accessed October 19, 2019).

Jade Kitchel
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 10/19/2019