DARDANELLE, Ark. – Building something new from something old, a Dardanelle woman has made it her mission to restore the history of the town. After demolishing an old Presbyterian church, she will soon build something new in its place. This project, however, will still have parts of the old building.
Dr. Diane Gleason grew up learning about her hometown and even made a career out of it. She’s written books and taught history for 40 years. Restoring old buildings is something new, but she says she couldn’t sit around and watch them be torn down.
“I believe that you have to save the material history of a town,” Dr. Gleason said.
The First Presbyterian church was built in 1872 and has quite the story.
“It was build after the Union forces had destroyed the Presbyterian Church during fighting here during the civil war,” Gleason said.
After the church moved locations and having several other owners, it’s sat empty for decades.
“The west wall was pulling away about two inches. The front north wall was pulling away about an inch. The foundation was gone,” Dr. Gleason said.
Gleason was tired of seeing various old homes and buildings be town down after being left abandoned.
“Finally one morning I said well fool you do it,” Dr. Gleason said.
She bought the property with the intent to restore it but it was deemed unsafe to work on. While this piece of Dardanelle’s past came tumbling to the ground, Dr. Gleason is finding ways to use the rubble as a new stepping stone. The bricks that made up the old church will now be used on the new building.
“We spent about 100 hours cleaning about 2000 of them,” Dr. Gleason said.
She says these bricks are pretty ancient.
“Prior to 1872 and they were made by slave labor,” Dr. Gleason said.
Looking at them, she wonders about the story behind just one brick.
“You put your hands there and you think I wonder who’s hand my fingers are in their impression,” Dr. Gleason said.
While she couldn’t save the building itself, she wants to make sure the next project still has a story to tell.
“The culture and heritage of a town is wrapped up in its old homes and old buildings and if you lose that then you’ve lost something that is irreplaceable,” Dr. Gleason said.
This is Dr. Gleason’s second project. She also has her eye on a couple other buildings too. She hopes this inspires others to take pride in their town and look at the history behind it.