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Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places: Henry Koen Forest Service Building, Russellville, Pope County

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Henry Koen Forest Service Office Building at Russellville in Pope County was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 21, 1989. 

SUMMARY

The Henry R. Koen Forest Service Office Building is significant at a statewide level by virtue of its associations with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which oversaw and executed its construction, and as an outstanding urban adaptation of the rustic or ‘indigenous’ style typically reserved for more rural sites. As such it is eligible under Criteria A and C.

Elaboration

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as president of the United States, having defeated Herbert Hoover in the election of the previous November; within a matter of days (March 9) the U.S. Congress was already considering the assortment of legislation which constituted Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Among those bills was Roosevelt’s answer to what was probably the most dramatic manifestation of the on-going Depression, the 25% national unemployment rate. A principal component of his proposed solution was the formation of what was at first called the Emergency Conservation Work (ESW) program; however, the media referred to it as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a name which the program officially adopted in 1937. In general, the CCC was a nationwide attempt to relieve the rampant unemployment through the organization of able-bodied men into work camps for the purpose of performing a variety of construction and infrastructure improvement projects which were in the public interest. However, the CCC program principally targeted the unemployed in America’s large urban centers, where the congestion and standard of living was at its worst and most volatile.

Though President Roosevelt insisted that he would approve both all camp locations and both assignments, the initial organization of the CCC required a high level of interdepartmental coordination the likes of which had not been seen before. The Department of Labor initiated a nationwide recruiting program; the army conditioned and transported the enrollees to the various camps; and the Park Service and the Forest Service operated the camps and supervised all work assignments. Furthermore, once the camps were designated the goals and objectives for the camps within each state were to be coordinated with state and local public agencies. For the purposes of effectively managing this ambitious program, the nation was divided into regions or districts, with each district coming under the direction of a supervisor and staff specifically assigned thereto. The camps themselves were organized and administered based on military prototypes, but with principal emphasis placed on using military methods to organize work details of all sorts, including planning and construction, rather than on discipline or military preparedness. The “recruits” would be brought from the larger cities into typically rural areas in which the national and regional leadership had determined a need for a public project of some kind.

The work and impact of the CCC spanned the entire nation and principally benefitted national and state parks and forests. However, virtually all projects were intended for and executed in rural locations for recreational use; hence it was unusual for the CCC to construct an office building in a relatively urban setting, even though it was to serve the Forest Service as a regional headquarters building. It was the efforts of Henry R. Koen, the Ozark National Forest supervisor between 1922 and 1933, which secured the success of this undertaking (the Ozark Rational Forest is in the northwest part of the state, just above the Arkansas River). Henry Koen, an Arkansas native, had worked for the Forest Service since 1913, when he was appointed a forest ranger in the Sylamore Ranger District in north central Arkansas. Later, during his tenure as forest supervisor he greatly expanded the administrative infrastructure of the forest: roads were constructed or improved, fire towers erected, and communications networks for better and more efficient management were installed. His recognition of the need for a centralized and coordinated system of forest management inspired his vision of a modern headquarters building.

Congressman D.D. Terry helped secure passage of the special Congressional act required to appropriate the monies required for the construction, and the relatively elaborate design (compared to the rough-hewn, unfinished aesthetic typical of most CCC construction) was provided by a Treasury Department architect. Congressman Terry was also present for the dedication ceremonies on May 2, 1939. Comments in the May issue of The Dixie Ranger, the regional Forest Service newsletter, reflected the feelings of pride in the completion of the headquarters building and the recognition of the debt owed to Henry Koen as the person most responsible for its existence:

“… one couldn’t see the town for the people. The whole state of Arkansas rejoiced with Mr. Koen and considered the new building a symbol of the dedication of Mr. Koen’s services to a program to rebuild and promote the … resources of his native State.”

The building housed both the administrative staff of the Ozark National Forest and the locally-assigned staff of the Civilian Conservation Corps. After the dissolution of the CCC the building continued to serve the Forest Service as well as an assortment of other government agencies. Though the building continues to serve as the headquarters for the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, its custody and maintenance have been the responsibility of the General Services Administration (formerly the Public Buildings Administration) since 1942.

Reportedly, Henry Koen also had a hand in the design of the headquarters building. Though the architect’s conception of the building included the ductwork for an air conditioning system, Koen decided against the actual installation of the equipment due to his concern that the staff would become too comfortable in the office and would thus be reluctant to get out into the field. The overall aspect of the design recalls the rustic, rough-hewn, native stone and natural wood buildings constructed throughout the nation by the CCC during this period, and get there are several clear differences. All of the stone has been cut and shaped for easier construction and a more finished appearance, a characteristic which is most atypical for CCC designs considering that random-coursed and irregularly-shaped natural stone was the norm. The stone also appears to have been selected for chromatic homogeneity, as it is all of a consistent light brown or beige hue, a relatively restrained palette compared to the rich red or polychromatic stone typical of other Arkansas CCC stone structures. Finally, the use of brick for the chimney and finished, dimensional lumber and decorative wood brackets on the second story of the main section, combined with the relatively shallow overhang below and shallow cornice above, render the design far more restrained and stylistically traditional than other CCC design in Arkansas. Considered within this context its design is most unusual, and may in fact be construed as merely an extension of the same design ethic which informed the rural designs: a design which appears natural to its setting where the architect has adapted the use of native, indigenous materials to an urban site in which a more roughly-hewn and rustic aesthetic would have been inappropriate.

The headquarters became known as the Henry R. Koen building in April, 1979, officially honoring the former forest supervisor. Koen family members and citizens of Russellville had petitioned the Forest Service to rededicate the building. Senator Dale Bumpers helped secure the legislation necessary to name a Government building in honor of an individual, and 40 years after construction, the crowd gathered once more to pay tribute to Henry R. Koen.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bass, Sharon M.W., For the Trees, (U.S. Forest Service, 1981).

Burggraf, Frank and Karen Rollet, Manmade Elements in Natural Settings: The CCC in Arkansas. (1989).



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