The Arka Tech

Deteriorating with time: Russellville’s historic Latimore house no longer a safe haven

LAURA BEAN/THE ARKA TECH: The Latimore Tourist Home, located at 318 S. Houston Ave., was once a safe haven for African Americans traveling through the Arkansas River Valley.

Disguised by trees in the beginning stages of fall and with no distinguishing characteristics of importance stands a house. Some windows are broken, leaving shards of thin glass, and others are boarded up. Some have no glass at all, allowing visitors to peer upon the decrepit walls and smell the decay of yesteryear. The upstairs balcony bows under the weight of a collapsing roof covered with green shingles. Some of the rails, which once tied together the picturesque second-story balcony, now join the earth amongst the paint flakes. Bridled by age, this house shows no chance of standing the test of time.

At 318 S. Houston Ave., the Latimore Tourist Home does not look like it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built somewhere around the 1900s, the Latimore Tourist Home, as it is known now, was once a safe harbor for African American travelers in the South. During the Jim Crow Era, African Americans were a segregated race that was not afforded the rights to equal treatment.

During this time, the Latimore Tourist Home was the only lodging available between Little Rock and Fort Smith. This tourist house, which was in operation from 1940-70, accommodated traveling African Americans, their families and often those working in the railroad industry. The house was operated by Gene and Cora Latimore until there was no longer a need.

The Latimore Tourist Home was listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guide for African Americans that informed them of services specifically available in a segregated time. Service stations, restaurants, night clubs and lodging were among some of the accommodations for those who were traveling.

This guide was vital to travelers during this era because of the extreme segregation that was taking place throughout the nation. Although the guide book was not updated often and some places were not the best atmosphere for families, the guide book played an important role for the struggle that African Americans faced in day to day operations.

The Latimore Tourist Home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. This home, which is important to not only African American history but to the town of Russellville, is not being preserved.

Dr. Sam Worley, associate professor of English and American studies said the home is a treasure to the area.

“Wouldn’t it be great to use it as some sort of cultural center or museum?” Worley said. “We don’t have that much history around us anyway, and it’s a good reminder to help us remember that history.”

While history can certainly be seen as a thing of the past, why can’t we make it a thing of the future or even the present? If something is recognized nationally shouldn’t there be a sense of pride in it locally?

To find out more about the Latimore Tourist Home and other National Register of Historic Places you can visit www.arkansaspreservation.com.