In 1998 Dumas joined the National Main Street program, and began to make major improvements in lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping. Two major blocks of downtown are included in the National Historic District.
Main Street Dumas is led by Executive Director Jann Farmer and strong board of volunteers. This group works on promotion, organization, design, and restructuring of Main Street.
History and Buildings of Main Street
The names across the tops of the buildings in downtown Dumas between Waterman and Choctaw Streets - McKennon, Porter, Dante, Hagood, Banks, Merchants & Farmers Bank - are still there but for many of the younger generation here their true history has faded. And there are still members of several of those families living here, but none of those names match businesses still in existence. The same is generally true of the many stores, shops and other entities that have come and gone over the years, from Wolff Brothers to Adams Mercantile and Dante’s Store to the Sterling Store, Nichols Grocery Store to Porter’s Grocery and Porter’s Furniture and Spot Gill Furniture, plus various barber shops and beauty shops and grocery stores and drug stores and other concerns too many to name.
Like many communities where business development slowly moved from downtown to busier locations on major highways, Dumas saw its historical downtown change, as well as businesses connected to Main Street. But the core remained relatively intact even as non-retail concerns filled spaces that were once mostly retail. With a downtown that essentially was made up of two blocks running north and south and three streets bisecting Main and Choctaw to the east and west, with a set of very active railroad tracks splitting Main, Dumas never had a huge, bustling business district before time, a shift in the economy and several fires effected change. By the same token, there was never a time when the city faced block after block of vacant storefronts like many communities both in this area and across the state.
In fact, community leaders - through series of moves over the past 17 years - have made sure the historic downtown area and its environs have both been protected and also been put in position for advantages to which many other downtowns have not had access. First and foremost in that effort is Dumas becoming a part of the Main Street Arkansas program in 1999, followed by the naming of Main Street between Waterman and Choctaw to the National Register as a Historic Commercial District, then the recent selection to the state’s Certified Local Government program.
The three designations are separate yet are connected in many ways.
Part of the Arkansas Historic Preservation, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, Main Street Arkansas programs and the dates they joined are: Batesville (1984), Blytheville (1990), Conway (2016), Dumas (1999), El Dorado (1988), Eureka Springs (2012), Helena (1984), Jonesboro (2013), Little Rock (2016), Osceola (1997), Ozark (1989), Paragould (1999), Rogers (1984), Russellville (1992), Searcy (2005), Siloam Springs (2011), South Main Little Rock - SOMA (2006), Texarkana (2005)
The Main Street Four-Point Approach® - Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Vitality - is a unique preservation-based economic development tool that enables communities to revitalize downtown and neighborhood business districts by leveraging local assets - from historic, cultural and architectural re-sources to local enterprises and community pride. It is a comprehensive strategy that addresses the variety of issues and problems that challenge traditional commercial districts.
Since its founding in 1980, Main Street has been the leader than 2,000 programs and leaders who use the Main Street approach to rebuild the places and enterprises that create sustainable, vibrant communities. This approach has been implemented in over 1,200 cities and towns in 40 states across the nation with the help of the National Main Street Center and statewide downtown revitalization programs. The success of the Main Street approach is based on its comprehensive nature. By carefully integrating four points into a practical downtown management strategy, a local Main Street program will produce fundamental changes in a community’s economic base.
Organization involves building a Main Street framework that is well represented by business and property owners, bankers, citizens, historic preservationists, entrepreneurs, public officials, chamber of commerce, and other local economic development organizations. Everyone must work together to renew downtown. A strong organization provides the structure and stability to build and maintain along-term effort. Promotion creates excitement and vibrancy downtown.
Street festivals, parades, retail events, and image development campaigns are some of the ways Main Street provides education on what’s downtown and encourages customer traffic. Promotion involves marketing an enticing image to shoppers, investors, and visitors. Design enhances the look and feel of the historic district. Historic building rehabilitation, street and alley clean-up, landscaping, street furniture, signage, visual merchandising and lighting all improve the physical image of the downtown as a quality place to shop, work, walk, invest in, and live. Design improvements result in a reinvestment of public and private dollars to downtown. Economic Vitality involves analyzing current market forces to develop long-term solutions.
Recruiting new businesses, creatively converting unused space for new uses and sharpening the competitiveness of Main Street’s traditional merchants are examples of economic restructuring activities. Main Street membership eventually helped pave the way for South Main Street between Choctaw and Waterman streets being listed in the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2007 as a Commercial Historic District.
The Dumas Commercial Historic District is comprised of late l9th Century and early 20th Century Standard Commercial style buildings with Colonial Revival secondary influence. The core of the district is the Merchants and Farmers Bank Building. Built in 1913, it is an excellent example of late 19th Century Colonial Revival Commercial style. Standing next to this building is the Banks Building, circa 1920. It was named for Sam Banks, a prominent Dumas businessman. The Porter Building, built in 1905, is the oldest building in this district. The renovated Banks Building is now owned by Main Street Dumas and houses the offices of Daughters of Charity Services of Arkansas.
The Dumas Chamber of Commerce is located in the Merchants and Farmers Bank Building, which is also home to Main Street Dumas and the offices of the Delta Area Community Foundation. The Merchants and Farmers Bank Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in December of 1982. It was constructed in late 19th Century Standard Commercial style with secondary Colonial Revival influence in 1913. The architect was Charles Thompson. The building is a rectangular one and one-half story brick structure. The walls are brick and it has a flat roof with a parapet. The roof material is tar built-up and the foundation is concrete block.
The Banks Building (circa 1920) is a rectangular one and one-half story, brick, early 20th Century Standard Commercial style building. The walls are brick and there is a brick foundation. The roof is flat with a parapet. The pressed tin ceiling inside the building has b been refurbished. The Porter building (circa 1905) is a rectangular red brick structure. It has a flat roof with a cornice just below the roofline. There is a brick continuous foundation. The style is early 20th Century Standard Commercial.
The second of three Porter buildings (circa 1925). It is a rectangular red brick one-and-one-half story building with a flat roof and a parapet. The style is early 20th Century Standard Commercial. The two-story Porter building (circa 1925) is the largest structure on the east side of South Main Street. It is a red brick structure built in early 20th Century Standard Commercial style. The walls are brick and the roof is flat with a parapet. The roof is tar built-up and the foundation is continuous brick construction.
Buck’s Liquor/J.J.’s (circa 1938) is a one-story brick building with a gabled metal roof with a parapet. It was constructed in early 20th Century Standard Commercial style. The Hagood Building (circa 1938) is a one and one-half story brick structure. Rectangular in plan, it was built in the early 20th Century Standard Commercial style by Porter in 1938. The walls of the building are brick and the roof is flat with a parapet. Material used for the roof is tar buildup. Foundation material is brick.
Also in same the block are Gill Furniture, Ain’t That Funky, a former restaurant and Cuttin' Corner. On the west side of Main, the McKennon Building (circa 1925) housed Wolff Brothers Department Store and is now Flowers & Gifts by William. It was built in the early 20th Century Standard Commercial style. It is a rectangular building constructed in three sections: a one story, a one and one-half story, and a two story section. It is a brick construction with brick walls and a flat roof with a parapet. It has a brick foundation and a tar built-up roof. The original red bricks are visible above the metal awning which covers much of the front/east facade.
Wolff Brothers Warehouse (circa 1925) is a one-story brick structure built in the early 20th Century Standard Commercial style. It is a rectangular building with a brick foundation and a flat roof with a parapet. The roof material is tar buildup.
Billy Free Memorial Park (1986) was built in honor of former Mayor Billy Free. The site features in this park are a gazebo, benches, picnic tables and a white fence across the back of the site. A New Look Barber Stylist (circa 1990) was built in the 20th Century Standard Commercial style in what is also a former law office and other property owned by Don Livingston. It is rectangular shaped and is a frame construction with a shed roof. The wall material is weatherboard ad it has a metal roof. There is a cast concrete foundation. Dante’s Department Store (circa 1925) is a large rectangular early 20th Century Standard Commercial style building. The walls are brick and it has a flat roof with a parapet. It has a brick foundation.
Like the Porter Buildings, it is home to a number of concerns including Phoenix Youth Services, an area owned by the city and the Dumas Area Arts Center, now operated by Main Street Dumas. The Dumas Commercial Historic District was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its associations with the agricultural and commercial history in Dumas and Desha County. Merchants & Farmers Bank, Banks Mercantile, and Porter Grocery Store were opened to assist the farmers with their personal, business and farming interests and are good examples of the District's association with agriculture and farmers.
In addition, the district was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C for its buildings which are good examples of early 20th Century Standard Commercial architectural styles with secondary Colonial Revival influence.
Merchants and Farmers Bank building is an excellent example of early 20th Century Standard Commercial style with Colonial Revival secondary influence. The Banks Building and the Porter Building are early 20th Century Standard Commercial architectural style buildings. The Porter Building, built in 1905, is the oldest building in the District. At a time when most buildings in the area were wood construction, these buildings were brick with modern commercial architectural styles of the period.
The Dumas Commercial Historic District straddles the railroad tracks that were the catalyst for growth and progress in this rural, agricultural town. The Saint Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad placed its tracks through Southeast Arkansas in 1870. The railroad not only brought people to Dumas to work the large plantations, but also provided a way for growers to get their cotton and other crops to market. The railroad crossed the 940 acre farm of W. B. Dumas. He had purchased the farm from the Holmes family, who came to the Arkansas Delta from Mississippi.
When the railroad came through his plantation, William Dumas, seeing an opportunity, surveyed the area, and the town of Dumas began to take shape. The City of Dumas was incorporated in 1904. Gus Waterman, a young Jewish immigrant from Germany, was Dumas's first mayor. Julian Waterman, youngest child of Gus Waterman, was the first Dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law. Waterman Hall on the Fayetteville campus is named in his honor.
Certified Local Government
Dumas was notified in May 2016 that it had become the 20th Arkansas city to join the Certified Local Government (CLG) program, which represents a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) and local governments (Arkansas cities and counties) to preserve historic resources at the local level. Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Director Frances McSwain made the formal announcement in mid-June.
“We congratulate the city of Dumas on its recognition as a CLG,” Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst said. “As a member of the CLG program, Dumas joins the forefront of the historic preservation movement in Arkansas and will be eligible for grant funding for future preservation projects.”
Other Arkansas cities currently participate in the Certified Local Government program are Batesville, Benton, Blytheville, Con-way, El Dorado, Eureka Springs, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Helena-West Helena, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Morrilton, North Little Rock, Osceola, Pine Bluff, Rogers, Russellville, Texarkana and Van Buren. In Arkansas, city or county governments are eligible for CLG status if they have a historic district commission with design review authority over a designated historic district.
In February 2015, the Dumas City Council passed an ordinance creating a historic district commission and designating the Dumas Downtown Historic District as a locally protected historic district and granting the Dumas Historic District Commission design review authority over new construction and alterations to structures and other features within the historic district. The Certified Local Government program is a preservation partnership between local, state and federal agencies focused on promoting historic preservation at the community level. The program is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, with local communities working through a certification process to become recognized as a CLG.
The other Arkansas cities in the CLG program are Little Rock, North Little Rock, Fort Smith, Van Buren, Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, Texarkana, Helena-West Helena, Osceola, El Dorado, Conway, Pine Bluff, Rogers, Morrilton, Blythe-ville, Fayetteville, Benton, Batesville and Russellville. Several others are working to become part of the CLG program.
For more information on the Certified Local Government program, write the AHPP at 323 Center St., Suite 1500, Little Rock, AR 72201, call the agency at (501) 324-9880 [TDD 501-324-9811], send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.arkansaspreservation.org.