The Burnett Center for Lifelong Learning
A Little History About the “Burnett Building” and the plans for the Center for Lifelong Learning
Technically, the property known as the “Burnett Building” is actually three separate buildings. The first two, located at 202 and 204 North Front Street were constructed around 1908. The third, a tiny building used as a barbershop is located behind these two buildings at 108 Merriman Avenue, East is believed to have been built about 1915.
These buildings were among the third generation of commercial buildings in the young city. The city originally began right in front of the property in 1882 when a train on the Iron Mountain Railroad overturned. Thrifty local citizens who wanted a depot uprighted an overturned boxcar which had lost its wheels and called it “Wynne Station”. Here, literally on the doorstep of this building, a city was born. Early buildings on the site burned in the 1887 fire which destroyed most of downtown and some early photographs show some one-story wooden structures on the site as late as roughly 1905.
The 202 and 204 buildings are typical storefront buildings of their period in small town America, with office and commercial spaces on the second floors. The second floors were accessed by stairways which one entered from Merriman Avenue (the 202 Building) and from Front Street (the 204 Building). It is not known for sure what the original uses of the buildings were, but it is known that there were groceries, saloons, lawyer’s offices, and abstract and title company, and other businesses. There may have originally been an entrance to 202 North Front at the corner of Merriman and Front, rather than the double-door entrance on Front which you see today. There were also two oval windows on the Merriman Avenue side of the property.
202 North Front is also known as the Cross County Abstract and Title Building, as the offices of this firm and, later, the Lines Law Offices, were located on the second floor. It is believed the restroom was added in the 1930s. The lower floor became the home to the Stutts Drug Company.
A 1939 promotional brochure about Wynne described it as follows:
One of the best stocked, most modernly equipped and efficiently conducted drug stores in Eastern Arkansas. It is modern in every detail of equipment, being provided with specially designed fixtures together with a modern soda fountain and serving tables, and is completely stocked with everything in the drug line. The business was founded 1 January 1935 by the late Arthur L. Stutts and was operated by him until he passed away and now it is operated by Mrs. Stutts.
About 1940, the Burnett family purchased the drug store. At roughly this time, the famous neon sign was installed on the corner of the building at Merriman and Front. The building was extensively renovated in 1956 with a false brick veneer front and awnings being added. The most extensive part of that renovation entailed removing the wall between the 202 and 204 buildings, moving of the stairs and the building of a half-story office in the 202 building. Electricity was modernized, and a false ceiling installed, covering the original tin ceilings. An entrance with large plate glass windows was also added to the first floor on the Merriman Avenue side.
Flooding of the Mississippi River and its tributaries plagued the building and all of downtown in 1912, 1913, 1927 and 1937. Street flooding also entered the building in 1954 and 1974, with up to two feet of water. Improved flood control on the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers (particularly the St. Francis levees and the 1977 Huxtable Pumping Station), along with the Corps of Engineers’ Caney Creek Flood Control Reservoir System on Crowley’s Ridge and improvements to the city’s storm sewer system have basically eliminated the flood threat downtown. A minor 2012 street flood was caused from a blocked storm drain at Front and Commercial Streets.
A 2013 script for a history walk in downtown Wynne by the Arkansas Historical Commission described structures as follows:
204 N. Front: Built about 1908. Was a pool hall, grocery store, dry goods store, restaurant, and in recent memory, either a barber shop or a pool hall. You can still see the ghost sign reading “Palace Saloon” on the upper façade…from the building’s early days as a pool hall/saloon.
202 N. Front: Built about 1908. Before this building was constructed, there was a saloon on this site. By 1908, this building housed a drug store. It was Stutts’ Drug Store and then Burnett Drugs by the 1940s. It had a soda fountain.
108 E. Merriman: This small white stuccoed building was originally red brick, as you can see through the crumbling stucco. It was built about 1915 and served as a barber shop. Interesting story about this barber shop…during one January in the 1960s, Florence Halstead went into this barber shop to get warm and wait for her husband, Fred Halstead, to finish his hair cut. The barber was very friendly and even invited the Halsteads to have lunch at his home (the barber didn’t know they were scouting out a location for their copper tube plant). The barber’s kindness turned out to be the deciding factor in locating the huge copper tube plant, Halstead Industries, Inc., in Wynne (bought by Mueller Industries in 1998).
Burnett’s closed around 1980. The contents of the store were moved to the second floor and basically locked up. In 2011, the Cross County Special Workshop was deeded the building by the Burnett Family, and it became the “FAME” Furniture Store. False walls were added on the first floor to create offices and work areas, and broken windows were removed, their openings boarded up. The workshop would own the building until 2018.
The second floor still contains remains of the Burnett Drug Company, from medicines to decades of handwritten prescription records to Hallmark Card Displays to glass bottles in which Coca-Cola Syrup was delivered. We hope to display and to even sell some of these items in the future. We have uncovered portions of the tin ceiling, and even one of the original light fixtures of the 204 building. Please notice those, as well as the artistic brick work outside of the building along the top of the second floor.
The buildings are contributing structures to the Wynne Commercial Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
The property was purchased by the Cross County Library in early February 2018. The Library Board had originally studied moving the entire library facility to Front Street in 2015 and 2016. They purchased the property with the idea turning the facility into a Lifelong Learning Center with meeting rooms for library programs, lectures, and civic events, space for ASU MidSouth’s Cross County Adult Learning (GED) Program, office spaces for community organizations, offices for the East Central Arkansas Regional Library, space for the library’s special collections and possibly a museum to house the growing, library-owned county art collection. Commercial space or a small business incubator are possible. The expect cost for renovating the facility is $650,000 which can be completed over phases as money allows.