Arkansas Baptist College
Building Excellence By
Restoring a landmark building on the campus of a historical higher education institution.
The restoration of Old Main on the campus of Arkansas Baptist College (ABC) was done in two phases and completed in the winter of 2010. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest building on a historically African American college campus in Arkansas. It was completed around 1895.
Arkansas Baptist College was founded in 1884. It was originally nicknamed the “minister’s institute,” as its original purpose was to provide higher education and training for African American ministers and teachers. It now offers a broad spectrum of degrees.
Old Main was badly in need of repair and restoration. The building had gone through a number of renovations through its history that had removed a number of historical elements. Additionally, the enrollment of ABC had increased from 200 students to over 1,000 students under the leadership of President Fitz Hill.
The first phase of the restoration of Old Main focused on the structural integrity of the building and the first floor. Phase two of the project resulted in the building housing additional classrooms, an auditorium, a board room and administrative offices. A new mechanical system was installed in the building and the interior finishes and fixtures were replaced with period appropriate items. The beadboard ceilings and wainscoting are the still the original and were restored, as were the original iron columns in the auditorium.
One of the greatest challenges on the interior was the installation of an elevator in the building. It was done in a historically sensitive manner that best allowed the building to maintain its historical integrity while at the same time allowing the building to meet the required needs of a building on a higher education campus in the 21st century.
On the exterior a new slate roof was installed, all wood was repaired/ painted and the windows were restored, as was the masonry. Additionally the porches with divided staircases were reconstructed and the bell tower was also reconstructed. The building from the outside now basically appears as it did when originally completed.
There were several sources of funding. These sources included private donations, grants from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and grants from the National Park Service to fund the restoration of buildings on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities.
Old Main is once again the crown jewel in the center of the campus of Arkansas Baptist College. It also serves as a physical reminder of the rejuvenation of one of the most historically significant institutions of higher education in Arkansas.