NORFORK — State and local officials met Friday afternoon in the upstairs courtroom of the Jacob Wolf House to dedicate the site’s new historical marker.
The double-sided sign briefly explains the history associated with the structure, which was originally built by Jacob Wolf in 1829 to serve as the first permanent courthouse for what was then Izard County.
“The Wolf House is a beautiful testament to Arkansas’ past, still standing proudly 190 years later,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, during the historical marker’s dedication ceremony Friday. “It more than deserves a marker to note its important place in Arkansas’ history, but to also educate visitors about why it is important.”
The two-story Wolf House was built overlooking the White and North Fork rivers in the now-defunct town of Liberty, whose land now is part of the modern city of Norfork.
“We have people ask if we moved the building here and reassembled it. It’s standing right here where it’s always stood,” site manager Marlon Mowdy said. “This was a thriving community (190 years ago). It was a river port and a center for trade.”
The building has a central breezeway on the first level, which is often called a dogtrot. The large upper room that extends over the breezeway was used as a courtroom, while rooms on the ground level were used as the county clerk’s office and as a post office.
In 2012, the National Parks Service declared that the Wolf House was the last remaining two-story, dogtrot public structure left in the United States.
“Now, there’s a lot of other structures out there on the cultural landscape that speaks to our time period, or even predate us,” Mowdy said. “But they’ve been documented as being inns, taverns, homes or stagecoach stops. This is documented as being the last remaining public structure of its kind.”
Wolf — a merchant, carpenter, blacksmith and politician — donated the land for the courthouse and the structure was deeded to him when the county seat was moved to the now nonexistent town of Athens. Wolf used the building as a house for his family of 16 children and five stepchildren. He died in 1863 and the house was sold in 1865.
In the late 1930s, the Wolf House came under public ownership and was maintained by local residents. The property was given to Baxter County in 1999 by the Wolf House Memorial Foundation, and a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program provided funding to restore the structure to its appearance when it served as a courthouse.
Despite the improvements, the county could not afford to do much more than maintain the site through the years.
“All the county could do was maintain the area, keep insurance on the building and keep the termites out,” County Judge Mickey Pendergrass recalled Friday. “We could do a little work but would sometimes get chewed out because it was a historical property and things weren’t always done according to that.”
In 2016, the county turned over ownership of the property to the state Department of Heritage, which was reorganized earlier this year into the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
“This structure tells such a beautiful history of our state. It’s an important piece of Arkansas’ history,” Hurst said. “This is a treasure. It’s right on the highway. It’s not tucked away down a gravel road, which happens so often in Arkansas. It’s so accessible.”
Pendergrass said he was a hard sell on handling the property over to the state.
“I wanted to make sure that the property would be maintained and promoted,” he said. “That it would become a go-to tourist site in Baxter County because of its historical significance on the White River and northern Arkansas.”
Since taking over possession of the site, the state has replaced some of the joists under the breezeway and made some repairs to one of the building’s chimneys. The site also received a new paved parking lot, era-appropriate fencing and several walkways and ramps to make the site more handicap accessible.
The John Wolf Cabin — a structure belonging to Jacob Wolf’s brother that was moved to the site in the late 1980s or early 1990s from the White River near Calico Rock — also underwent an exterior renovation. Workers replaced both the cabin’s front and back porches, replaced part of the structure’s roof and removed a chimney that was not era appropriate.
A small log building on the site that had previously been used as both a museum and community center has been renovated to serve as the site’s office space and offer visitors handicap-accessible bathrooms.
“The state has taken over and been able to do so many more things than the City of Norfork or the county could do because of finances,” Norfork Mayor Lisa Harrison said Friday. “Mr. Mowdy has a love of the Wolf House, just like all the residents here in Norfork. I want to thank him for all the time and energy he has put into it.”
Public education is one of the historical site’s focus, and the Wolf House will host “A Day at the Courthouse” on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Visitors to the site that day can witness what pioneer court proceedings were like in the 1800s.
“You have to understand that Baxter County has only been a county since 1873,” Pendergrass said. “This structure predates by county by 50 years.”
The site will also have a historically accurate hunter and trapper camped out on the Wolf House’s lawn that day to interact with people and explain his trade to them.
On Saturday, Nov. 2, the historical site will go even further back in time, focusing on the property’s prehistory and archaeology. Analysis indicates prehistoric Native American occupation of the property the Wolf House sits on dates back 7,000 years, Mowdy said.
“You’re here on a natural escarpment above the flood plain,” he said. “It’s a great place for seasonal camps.”
The Nov. 2 event will also include some private exhibits of Native American artifacts and demonstrations on making stone tools and weapons. The day’s activities will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 3 p.m.
The following inscription is found on the historical marker placed in front of the Jacob Wolf House:
Jacob Wolf House
Jacob Wolf was a merchant, builder of log structures, carpenter and a blacksmith. He was elected a representative to Arkansas Territory’s General Assembly in 1826. The two-story dogtrot structure constructed by Wolf in 1829 served as Izard County’s first permanent courthouse. The Wolf House sits in present-day Norfork (Baxter County) near where the White and Norfork rivers meet, a prime location for hosting thousands of pioneers finding their way into the central highlands of north Arkansas.
The site served as a river port, center of trade, and as a seat of justice. Notably, John P. Houston, brother of Texas statesman Sam Houston, worked as a county clerk in this courthouse. People from the surrounding area often set up temporary quarters on the grounds to socialize and participate in their favorite activities whole court was in session. The Wolf House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is the last remaining two-story dog trot public structure left in the United States.
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