In April 1975, a group of interested citizens met in the Ashley County Courthouse for the purpose of organizing an historical society with a goal of obtaining a museum for Ashley County. A non-profit organizational charter and by-laws were established, and the Ashley County Historical Society pursued the possibility of obtaining the David E. Watson home as the future Ashley County Museum. The society was able to get the Watson House listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. This made the society eligible for a grant of matching funds to assist in the purchase of the home.
In the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program nomination for listing on the National Resister of Historical Places it is noted that the Watson Home is an architecturally significant structure in its massive architectural designs. The nomination also noted that the home is historically important in that the Watson House is representative of one of the pioneer families who settled in Hamburg, (Ashley County), Arkansas.
With funds secured through Arkansas State Surplus Funds, the matching funds from the Grant-in-Aid from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, and other donations, the total amount available for purchase was $65,000, which was paid to the Watson Family for the home in 1979, leaving a balance on the purchase price of $10,000, due (and paid) by Oct 1980.
During the period from 1980 to 2007, the Museum served as venue for Art Shows, Square Dances, Silver Teas, Civil War Reenactments, and Lecture Series; as well as providing the artifacts of the lives of the people of Ashley County.
By the fall of 2007, time had taken its toll on the membership of the Ashley County Historical Society as well as the once grand residence which houses the museum. A small group of concerned individuals and community leaders decided to revive interest and membership in the ACHS.
The resulting young gathering of members undertook the daunting task of the restoration of this incredible building, and its surrounding grounds.
With the 2008-09 renovation, the Society now offers the museum as a premiere venue for wedding receptions, parties, and reunions.
The most recent renovation was completed in December of 2010. The results are outstanding. The kitchen was completely redone, with donated cabinets, all new appliances, and ceramic tile installed, it is now very caterer friendly. The den is now resplendant with an elk head and mantle for the fireplace, making it a very cozy place to visit. The addition of climate control for the upstairs makes visiting for a tour very pleasant. Come see us!
Designed and built by W. C. Major Bunn in 1918 at a cost of $11,000, the architecturally significant Watson House is a two-story brick structure with large proportions. The house is covered by an intersecting gable roof with fan windows in the pediments. A two-story portico, which spans the width of two elevations, features a flat roof and denticulated cornice. The portico is supported by eight evenly spaced, round Ionic capital columns and is surrounded on the second story by a railing and balusters.
Skilled cabinet-maker E. T. Johnson of Hamburg worked on the construction of the Watson House. The stairway and flooring are of pine, which was hauled from an eastern Arkansas town. The huge columns were bought in West Virginia and shipped to Hamburg by rail. The brick sidewalk along Cherry St was originally from a previous structure, which stood on the property.
The Watson House is designed in the Neo-Classical Revival style. The two-story structure is essentially square in plan, with a one-story rear projection. (Originally the kitchen.) A two-story veranda shelters the two street side elevations (south and west). The fenestration of the front or entry facade (west elevation) is symmetrical.
The house is constructed of tan or buff brick. Window and door openings are spanned by simple rectangular cast stone lintels. The wooden frame windows are double hung with a large single paned lower sash and a smaller multiple paned (vertical and diamond pattern) upper sash. The main entry door and the door openings onto the second veranda level have glass sidelights and transoms.
The two-story veranda is unique in that its eight large Ionic columns rise their full height, untouched by the second-story porch framing, to support the veranda roof. The second story veranda is cantilevered so that the second story itself supports the wrap-around porch.
The main roof is hipped with two gabled projections occurring over the otherwise flat veranda roof. These gable ends are stuccoed and decorated with semi-circular fanlights. A Classic three-part entablature, with an extended cornice and denticulated frieze, bands the house’s entire roof/wall juncture, gable ends, and second floor veranda floor structure. The upper veranda has a simple wooden railing consisting of large capped newel posts, a rectangular hand rail and square balusters.
The interior of the house retains many of its original decorative elements. Two massive Roman columns and a paneled beam visually separate the entry hall/sitting room and the parlor. Original beveled-glass paned French doors separate the dining room from the parlor.
The house is set on a corner lot two blocks from the downtown square. In an area in which smaller structures surround the property, the Watson House is a focal point in the community.
The house was constructed by David Elijah Watson, the son of Elijah David Watson of North Carolina. The elder Watson came to Ashley County, Arkansas, by wagon train in 1864. In 1865 he began a hardware business in Hamburg, which operated on the same location until 1981. Elijah D. Watson owned farm land in the delta region of Ashley County, and in addition to his hardware business, he maintained a “furnishing” business for local farmers.
David Watson married George Trezevant in 1896. They had two children, Norman Trezevant and Floie. Mrs. Watson was never a healthy person and died in 1910 in Phoenix, Arizona, while suffering from tuberculosis. During her years of residence in Hamburg, she was an active citizen in community affairs. Among her activities, she drew the plans for the Presbyterian Church in Hamburg, which is located only a block from the Watson House.
David E. Watson later married William "Willie" Sheppard Norman in 1926 in Hamburg. She was from a pioneer Ashley County family. In fact, she was named for her uncle, Dr William Sheppard Norman, one of the first medical doctors in Ashley County. She was one of the founders of the local DAR. The son born Janurary 30, 1932 to David E. and "Willie" Watson is Randall Oliver Watson; the oldest living resident of the Watson House, now known as the Ashley County Museum.
David Watson attended school at the Academy in Hamburg and at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. He was on the Board of Directors of the Hamburg Bank, was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, was on the Flood Administration Board during World War I and was active in local political affairs.
His son, Trezevant Watson, attended the Military Academy in Sweetwater, Tennessee. His second son, Randall O. Watson graduated from Hamburg High School in 1950 and attended the University of Arkansas, graduating with a Master's degree in geology. He served in the US Army during the Korean Police Action, being honorably discharged in 1962 with the rank of First Lieutenant. Randall, and his wife, the former Bessie Bell Serrett, also of Hamburg, now reside in Decatur, Texas.
The owner of the house just prior to it becoming the Ashley County Museum was the grandson of David Watson. Norman Trezevant Watson Jr. graduated from Hamburg High School, and then joined the Army. LTC Watson retired from the Army in 1975 and returned to Hamburg to operate the family hardware business.