The tense, wildly unpredictable activity of the Civil War once threw a cannonball through the roof of one area building.
Made of brick and wood and located at 421 Webster St. in downtown Van Buren, the single-story structure now serves as the home for the Women's Literary Club of Van Buren, but back in the 1860s, the building acted as a hospital for both Union and Confederate forces. Part of the damage from that cannonball still lives on inside the building.
"Our club's wooden gavel was made from the building's rafters after the cannonball went through the roof," said Lynne Rotert, vice president and grant writer for the Women's Literary Club. "There were six gavels made from the rafters, with other people having the other gavels. We are proud to have our gavel."
Three more artifacts related to the cannonball's passage can be found in the form of three wooden blocks, also made from the rafters. The blocks rest near a vintage photograph and plastic, decorative grapes inside one of the many bookshelves inside the Women's Literary Club building.
"This is only the second building to stand on this foundation," Rotert said with a smile. "There is so much history in this building and in this area; it's unbelievable."
Rotert and Mary Jane Hurst, a trustee with the club, and their fellow club members are seeking donations from the community to be used alongside grant money from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
"We've received a total of $294,520 in grant money, and we're still waiting to see if we are receiving a new grant," she said. "We've already waterproofed the outside of the building, we've added a handicapped-accessible ramp in the back, we've done work to the foundation, we've re-glazed the windows and we have upgraded the electrical system."
Ceiling fans also have been added to the building, as well as a "pretty sink with real hot water," Hurst said. The building's floor was leveled to help reinforce the floor's strength, she said.
"We are thrilled about all of the renovations," Hurst said.
"Yes," added a grinning Rotert. "And a new heating-and-air system is like heaven."
Among the changes still needed are additional upgrades to the electrical system and the installation of period-looking lights inside the building, said Rotert.
Cameron Hubbs Construction of Van Buren and architect Mark Evans of the Fort Smith-based E Squared Architecture and Design have helped the club reach many of its goals over the last few years, Hurst said.
"They have been so helpful, and Cameron's mother, Dee Hubbs, is a club member here," she said. "Dee has been so instrumental in getting the 501(c)(3) for the club and getting the building on the National Register of Historic Places. We've accomplished so much because of those who have helped."
Anyone wishing to donate can send checks to: Women's Literary Club of Van Buren, P.O. Box 984, Van Buren, AR 72956.
"We are so thankful for all who help us," Rotert said. "We definitely want to give credit where credit is due."
First built in 1844 and named on the National Register of Historic Places about 10 years ago, the building once served as the Old School Presbyterian Church, Rotert said. The land for the building was donated by the late John Drennen, she said.
"Federal troops both from the North and the South used the building as a hospital, and then the North used it as a headquarters," Rotert said. "I had also heard that Native Americans came here to sign documents, but we haven't been able to find the documentation for that yet.
"And of all the buildings in Van Buren during the Civil War, this building was the least damaged," she added. "Because it had the least amount of damage, the building was used for church, for speeches, for plays and a lot of other things."
Established by Margaret Wood in 1896, the Women's Literary Club of Van Buren took over ownership of the building in 1921, Rotert said.
"The club was organized for the self-improvement of its members and for others, and to establish a public library for the town," she said.
The club's origins are as storied as the building's history, Hurst said.
"Two women from this area went in a buggy down to Little Rock in 1897," she said. "They went to help form the Federation of Women's Organizations for the state."
Rotert then smiled.
"Can you imagine two women getting in a buggy and going alone to Little Rock?" she asked with wide eyes. "Oh my."
Paula Kelley of Van Buren said she is happy that efforts are being made to renovate the building.
"The Old School Presbyterian Church building is such a big part of downtown life in Van Buren," she said. "It's an important part of our city."
The building served as a public library for Van Buren until the early 1960s, Rotert said.
"I remember as a young girl coming to the library here, and when you would walk across these hardwood floors, there would be a sound," she said with a laugh. "The librarian would look over at you and give you that look."
Rotert then squinted her eyes and pointed as if pointing to another person.
"Oh yes, I got that look from the librarian," she said before laughing again.
Hurst said she could relate to Rotert's experiences.
"When I was younger, I had to come here to the library and ask for books on reproduction for a paper, and oh yes, did I get a look from the librarian," Hurst said. "The librarian had to get the books from underneath a shelf and give them to me. I was a little embarrassed."
"Yeah, but those educational books back then were tame," added Rotert with a laugh. "Everything was tamer — a lot tamer — back then compared to how things are now."