Noted Bentonville architect Harrison French has purchased a unique property in the Boxley Valley of Newton County.
French, founder and CEO of architectural firm HFA (Harrison French & Associates), completed a deal last fall to purchase the remains of what once was the only steam-powered sawmill in the state.
According to the Newton County Assessor, French paid $610,000 for approximately 86 acres that include a number of decaying buildings including three residences, a general store and the sawmill.
French bought the property from the descendants of Arvel and Elsie Casey. According to Ruth Wilson, who wrote for The Observer Record newspaper in 1981, Arvel Casey opened the sawmill behind his house on the property in 1946. It closed in 1978 and the general store, which opened in 1943, closed in 1981, a result of the property being sold to the National Park Service.
“The mill turned out all kinds of furniture squares and handle blanks,” Wilson wrote. “Arvel shipped carloads of wood from the railroad depots first at Harrison then later at Bergman.”
The sawmill was steam operated for all but the last year of operation, and Wilson wrote that the steam whistle could be heard as far away as Parthenon, some 16 miles away.
French said none of the buildings are in good condition and wouldn’t be entirely salvageable. He said he would like to replace in kind any of the significant structures that would be most feasible.
“We’d like to reconstruct something that looks very similar to what existed there before,” he said. “It would be an enclosed structure at some point.”
One of the features still in place is the sawmill’s 30-foot smokestack.
“We would like to keep that in place if we could,” French said.
Even though the land is privately owned, the property’s location in the Boxley Valley falls within National Park Service jurisdiction.
“A lot of things you might want to do have to be approved by the National Park Service,” French said. “We’ve let them know what our intentions are and what we’d like to do, and I am waiting on a response back.”