Historic Black House holds Searcy art gallery

Posted: August 28, 2014 at 1:55 a.m.

The Black House is a historic residence of note that also houses the Searcy Art Gallery.

SEARCY -- A gallery of local contemporary art installed in a handsome historic house delivers a one-two punch of pleasure for visitors to Searcy.

The notion of a day trip to the White County seat may not immediately send ripples of excitement pulsing through a traveler. The county, after all, is still legally dry (except for a few private-club alcohol permits).

But this city of 23,000, 50 miles northeast of Little Rock, offers a mix of pleasant attractions and activities in a setting more visibly prosperous than a number of larger Arkansas municipalities. There's no plethora of hauntingly empty downtown storefronts here. Murals on several buildings add color to the scene.

The historic Black House, 300 E. Race Ave., is the two-in-one attraction. Admission is free (with donations welcome) to view the period-furnished two-story residence, which began as a two-room log cabin in 1858. Its builder was businessman Benjamin Clayton Black, a Confederate Civil War captain who supposedly surrendered to Union forces on the block where the house stands. He later served as Searcy's mayor.

After the war, Black married Molly Rosamond Jones. On their honeymoon trip to New Orleans, they fell in love with that city's architecture. Back home, they replaced the cabin with the Victorian-era residence with its expansive front porch and full-length second-floor veranda that stands today.

Visitors are greeted by cheerful guides, among them Searcy Arts Council Director Myra Shock, a font of information on the house. She points out that the grand wooden staircase was imported from France and shipped from New Orleans to Searcy in 1874. Rooms are furnished with period pieces, while parts of the original walls, ceilings and floors have been preserved.

The arts council sponsors a half-dozen exhibitions a year by artists from the area. Now on display is work by Angela Renee Turner. Coming up at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 is a Searcy Art Walk to nearby galleries.

Other Searcy sites with a historic resonance include the White County Courthouse, said to be the oldest Arkansas courthouse still being used for its original purpose. Built in 1871 and remodeled in 1912, it boasts a distinctive look featuring a first story of light-colored cut stone and a second story of red brick.

The nearby Rialto Theater, 100 Race Ave., is a cinematic survivor opened in 1923 and remodeled with splashy neon in the 1940s. It is a single-screen movie house with a 7:30 p.m. showing every day of the week and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is a full-fledged bargain at $2 ($1 on Tuesday and Thursday). Popcorn on Monday is $1.

Pioneer Village, 1200 Higginson St., is a collection of a dozen vintage buildings from White County. The structures include a log house dating to the 1870s, a jail, a one-room schoolhouse, a post office, a smokehouse, a blacksmith shop and an outdoor toilet.

The White County Fair, one of the largest in Arkansas, opens this year's eight-day run on Sept. 6 at the local fairgrounds. Down-home events include an antique tractor pull, a horse show, all-terrain-vehicle races, a monster truck jamboree, a rodeo and a demolition derby.

A drive-by Searcy attraction at 205 S. Spring St. is Yarnell's Ice Cream Co., an Arkansas tradition since 1933 and back in operation under new owners in 2012 after a bout of bankruptcy. There are, alas, no plant tours nor free samples of Yarnell's flavorful products.

A lunch best bet involves driving 10 miles northeast to Bald Knob, where Who Dats serves po-boy sandwiches that would pass muster in New Orleans, along with a copious noontime buffet. The address is 3209 Arkansas 367, Bald Knob; call (501) 724-6183.

Information for visitors to Searcy is available by visiting searcy.com. For details on Historic Black House, open 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 12 noon-4 p.m. Saturday, call (501) 279-1094.

Weekend on 08/28/2014