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story.lead_photo.caption The barn at Fitzgerald Station is one of the few structures that remain from the Butterfi eld Overland Express stagecoach route. - Photo by Andy Shupe

A nonprofit organization that builds trails has purchased the historic Fitzgerald Station in Springdale for $239,800, according to Washington County property records.

NWA Trailblazers plans to build a trail head and parking lot on adjacent property, then donate all 5.28 acres to the city of Springdale, said Erin Rushing, executive director of the nonprofit organization.

The Trailblazers will get a spot to provide easy access to 10 miles of mountain biking trails that it plans to build on Fitzgerald Mountain, just to the east, and Springdale will get one of the city's most historic properties for free.

"That's a very generous thing they're doing and making happen," Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said. "We'll look forward to maintaining that and preserving it. It's a great deal for the city obviously, and we're excited about the trails they're building on the mountain."

The 4.15-acre Fitzgerald Station property includes three buildings: the original 1857 barn, an inn from the 1870s and a house built in 1971.

The barn is important to preservationists because it's one of the few structures that remain from the Butterfield Overland Express stagecoach route that operated from 1858-61, taking mail from Tipton, Mo., to California.

Sprouse said the city will work to preserve the barn, but he's not so sure about the 1870s inn, which isn't the original inn on the site.

"I think the barn has more value than the house as far as historic value," he said.

"I think what happens with the house, it will be more in question. We wouldn't have plans to tear the house down, but if push comes to shove ... our maintenance is going to concentrate on the barn."

Sprouse said he hopes the city can find private partners to help maintain the historic properties.

The Fitzgerald Station property was previously owned by Arvest Bank, which acquired it in April.

The Trailblazers also bought a 1.13-acre adjacent lot on Dodd Avenue last month for $59,500. That's where the trail head and parking lot will be located.

Rushing said work will begin on the unpaved Fitzgerald Mountain trails early next year, and they should be completed by early summer.

According to its mission statement, the Trailblazers works to develop "cycling and pedestrian infrastructure that connects community and moves people."

"For almost two decades, we have been committed to building quality trails within a speedy time frame," according to www.nwatrailblazers.com. "Help make cycling, running and walking the first choice in NWA for transportation and recreation."

The organization has built about 100 miles of trails, including several sections of the paved Razorback Greenway in Bentonville and Bella Vista, Rushing said.

The organization was incorporated in 1996 as the Bentonville/Bella Vista Trailblazers Association but does business as NWA Trailblazers when the work is outside the Bentonville/Bella Vista area.

Rushing said NWA Trailblazers receives some funding from the Walton Family Foundation.

According to the foundation's website, Northwest Arkansas trails is one of its priorities. From 2000-15, the Walton Family Foundation invested $43 million in shared-use paved-trail development in Northwest Arkansas and $8 million in natural-surface trails, said Luis Gonzalez, a spokesman for the foundation.

The Fitzgerald Station barn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Its original wood-shake roof was destroyed by fire and replaced with a metal one, according to the National Register nomination.

The barn was 125 feet south of the Fitzgerald Station on the old Military Road from Springfield, Mo., to Fort Smith.

The Butterfield Overland Express was a major factor in the settlement and development of Arkansas and the American West before the Civil War, according to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

Branches of the Butterfield route left from Tipton, Mo., and Memphis, heading west. They converged in Fort Smith before making the rest of the journey to San Francisco. The route from Memphis to Fort Smith changed from time to time because of flooding in east Arkansas.

By 1861, the Butterfield Overland Express employed several thousand people, according to the encyclopedia entry. But the Pony Express, which started in 1860, could carry mail faster and more economically. The Pony Express didn't carry passengers, but stagecoach passenger service proved unprofitable.

Also, in 1861, Western Union's transcontinental telegraph line was completed.

John Butterfield was forced out of the company in 1860 because of debt, but the stage line joined with Wells Fargo and continued to carry mail until 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed, signaling the end of the stagecoach era.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A map showing the location of Fitzgerald Station

Metro on 12/24/2017

Print Headline: Group buys Springdale historic site

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