A state representative is hoping to clean up a Bald Knob hotel that dates back to the 1920s and a wooden rail car and get them on historic registers. But he’s been given only another half-year by the Bald Knob City Council to get it done.
In a special meeting last Thursday, the council approved giving Rep. Craig Christiansen six more months for the rebuild, with Council member Johnny Hodges also including that Christiansen should give the council updates every 60 days on the progress of the projects.
Councilwoman Mary Lou Smith chastised Christiansen on the lack of progress before now, saying “those properties were condemned Dec. 9th of 2019. You have done nothing, Craig. You boarded up the hotel but that is all.”
Christiansen said, “I know that it is a problem and an eyesore; we are doing our best.” He gave the council some background on his efforts and where things stand.
“The wooden rail car is the last surviving car off the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad as far as the passenger equipment goes,” he said. “It was brought over here a number of years ago and volunteer help kind of dissipated.
“We had a gentleman who spent a great deal of time taking the front half of the car apart. We stored a lot of that stuff for archives so we can use it as a pattern and then he developed some significant dementia, and so now we have the documents that show the measurements that we needed but now he is no longer involved with the project.”
Volunteers are a little hard to find now, according to Christiansen, who said “he grabbed a couple of folks” and they would like to get started on the projects in September.
Focusing on the former Bald Knob Hotel, across from the depot, Christiansen said before the pandemic, he and his group started dealing with the Arkansas Register of Historic Places “before we could go on to the National Register.” He said the the hotel and the rail car are both items of consideration for the Arkansas register but “the both have to be rebuilt a bit before they can be considered. The rail car has been rebuilt several times.”
Christiansen gave his health as a reason the project has been stalled as well as some lack of funding that occurred and his wife being sick.
He said items have been taken out of the hotel and the ground floor of it has been secured, adding that no transients can get into it now. “We have put up cameras. We have put up security lighting. We started to take some of the rotten wood out from the inside. That will accelerate over the next two or three months because I have some folks that would really like to see that preserved.”
Christensen said five students were vandalizing the hotel building several years ago and after they were caught, they turned into student volunteers. They “took the back room off of the back of it and cleaned a lot of stuff out of it that needed to be done. I told them once that that is restored, we will put a bronze plaque in there with their names on it. My five grew to eight. We kept them throughout the summer ... .”
There are three construction companies that Christiansen said he is talking to about working on the project. He said first, the roof would have to be stripped off and the wood replaced. The entire second floor also would need to be replaced.
“It can be done. It needs to be done because that’s something that is part of Bald Knob’s history,” he said. “We have ourselves to sell – this is a great town with good people and we want people to come here. We want to do a Depot District. We have talked about that for several years.”
Christiansen said with him being in the state Legislature, he was gone for five months because of COVID-19 and his wife’s autoimmune disease that would not let him come home. “So I spent six nights at home, if you count the time from two days after Christmas until the end of April. We were told to just treat it as a deployment and we did.”
“I am trying to do a lot of good things for the city. I want to see Bald Knob succeed. ... I can tell you you will see dismantling progress starting in September and you will see what we are trying to do go forward.”
Smith, who was on the Bald Knob Planning Commission in December 2019, questioned Christiansen on several aspects of what he presented. She said, “You told us that night at the meeting you had a town that was going to take that rail car, take it apart and take it out of here.”
Christiansen responded, “They decided the men that wanted to do that were too old. The found a caboose that was in great shape and they procured that and so now we have to follow through in removing it. All of that languished around for a number of months and then COVID.”
“Well, I know it did,” Smith said.
Christiansen replied, “I did not receive an official condemnation letter on that.”
“You did,” Smith said. “Because when we filed this resolution in the courthouse, it was immediately after you got the letter.”
Christiansen said, “I will accept that, but I did not see it as such.”
Smith told Christiansen she also wanted “to call your hand” on something else he said.
“This Arkansas historical preservation – I have called the secretary of state and the mayor called him, too – they have never heard of this and according to the computer, there is only one person in this and that’s you, the president,” Smith said. “How can you say this is a committee?”
Christiansen said, “I can say it’s a committee because I started it.” Smith said, “Nobody remembers but you.”
Christiansen said, “They have heard of me because you have a letter in that packet right now from” the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Smith responded, “I also have a letter here from the Arkansas historical preservation that says they never heard of the property. ... I called the gentleman. He told me there had been nothing every discussed with the Arkansas historical society concerning this property and I said, ‘Well, you send me that in black and white; this is the letter.”
Christiansen told Smith that “we did not talk to the National Register, we are going through the Arkansas Register. We are going through the state because the process is different for the hotel and rail car because of their condition than it was for the depot.”
Smith said the longer the rail car and hotel sit there, the worse their conditions get. She told Christiansen that he had mentioned that the Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 is making a stop in Bald Knob on Aug. 27 and “that rail car needs to be gone before then.”
“We are trying to get people to come here to see that we are doing something,” she said.
Christiansen said, “You are going to see progress,” but Smith asked him when. “You had told us that in December of 2019.”
Christiansen told Smith his wife had been ill with eight hospitalizations and two surgeries in 12 months. “But you own the hotel, you own the rail car,” Smith said. “You are responsible.”
She said there are residents who don’t mow their yards and their property is condemned and he owns this property and it is no different.
Smith asked Christiansen how long the wooden rail car has been in Bald Knob and he said since 2007. She said, “That’s 14 years. It sits there and has deterioriated.”
Christiansen told Mayor Barth Grayson that six months was “doable to see the rail car down to its frame.” He said on the hotel, it would be hard to say because of COVID-19 and the delays it has put on contractors doing work. He said by January, the rail car could be to the mayor’s satisfaction so it could be rebuilt.
“That is a wooden frame that has 10 feet of metal frame underneath it on each end,” he said. “That car was built in 1894 by the St. Charles Car Co. in St. Charles, Mo.”
Hodges told Christiansen that if he “was dead serious about it [the projects], you should be able to convince us that you are doing something about it [in 60 days].”
Christiansen said, “I can guarantee that.”