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Memories From The Museum

May 26th, 2016 by

DrewCountyMuseumA little acclaimed story from Drew County history was brought to mind last week while I was attending a recent meeting of the Public Health Committee of the Arkansas House of Representatives in Little Rock.  A most interesting and kind gentleman whom I had just met asked about the state of the “Bottoms Baptist Orphanage”.

I recall hearing this term when we first moved to Drew County and wondering if it meant that some person from “the bottoms”, a local term referring to the Delta, might have founded the Baptist home.  However, research proved this to be untrue.

Today I want to share briefly the story about the Bottoms Baptist Orphanage, more familiarly known in these times as the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children. 

The Arkansas Baptist Home for Children can be traced back to July, 1894, when a Baptist minister, Robert Cummings Medearis, came to Monticello and planted the seeds for such a home to be built in Arkansas.  Soon a Ms Hannah Hyatt, a local spinster, stepped forward and offered the old Hyatt family home and its surrounding 80 acres near Monticello to be used for such a purpose.

Hannah Hyatt was born in 1857, the youngest of the ten children of Benjamin C. and Agnes Hyatt, early settlers in the area.  After her father’s death Hannah had inherited both the farm and home located about 1 1/2 miles from the old Square and was reportedly already keeping several orphaned children when she heard of Medearis’ plan.

At the ensuing Arkansas Baptist Convention held in November, 1894, her offer was tendered and formal approval was given to organize such a home for children on the site in accordance with state law.  On July 22, 1895, Hannah signed a warranty deed giving her family home and land to establish the home.  Incorporation papers were signed on February 5, 1896.

The facility soon began to have problems with insufficient space and eventually financial problems as well.  By 1909 a call had begun to move the facility from Monticello.  When that cry was squelched, the need was still there for more space and that meant more financial support.

At that point George Bottoms, owner of the Bodcaw Lumber Company of Stamps, stepped up and pledged $2,500.00 for each of the next two years to be used for construction projects.  A new three story building was built and dubbed the Bottoms Addition.

For the next several years financial problems continued to plague the facility.  In 1923 the Baptist convention again met to discuss moving the home to Arkadelphia.  All this confusion subsided when, on December 16, a fire destroyed a prime building in the facility’s complex.  This event polarized the convention’s executive committee who soon thereafter began to formalize what buildings needed to be constructed on the site.

In May, 1924, their recommendations for two new dormitories were released to the public and contributors sought.  Mrs. George Bottoms, along with her husband, had contributed earlier to the home, and now came forward with a most generous contribution of $25,000.00 towards the new dormitories.  Because of their generosity toward the home, the 1924 Baptist convention changed the facility’s official name to Bottoms Baptist Orphanage.

The financial tide had turned and there was no more talk of moving the home from Monticello.  However, financial woes continued to hound the facility through the Great Depression, a major fire and WWII.

After WWII the home’s situation brightened.  The 1950s saw a building boom with the addition of three new cottages and a gym and recreation hall funded again largely through the George Bottoms estate.  (Over their life spans Mr. and Mrs.  Bottoms had contributed over one million ($1,000.000) dollars to Baptist causes.)

Although their contributions were greatly appreciated, it was decided that the institution’s name be changed to the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children in 1961 to reflect its statewide mission of providing assistance and a “home” to all children in need from any place across our state.

So now you have a very brief history of the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children and its 37 earlier years as the Bottoms Baptist Orphanage.  For a more complete history of the ABHC, see the 1994 and 1995 issues of the Drew County Historical Journal at the museum.

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Memories From The Museum”

  1. Krista says:

    My grandfather Van Felton McMahon Sr worked there for a long time when I was a child and a teenager. He drove the kids there to church and was a handy man there. They caked him “curly”

  2. Angela Purifoy says:

    My dad’s mother, her twin, and other sister, and brother were raised there from 1908 on, after their parents died they were sent here from Sebastian county, Arkansas….Every time I drive past it tuggs at my heart to know this is where the grandmother I never met because she died before I was born played, and lived…….None ever came and adopted them the Baptist Home (Bottom’s orphanage was all they had….

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