City employees and community volunteers are coming together to preserve an important part of history in Mulberry.
Kirksey Maternity Hospital saw the birth of more than 4,700 babies in the span of two decades, each delivered by Dr. Odell J. Kirksey.
Other doctors practiced out of the building, now known as the Bryant-Lasater House, but none are as widely known and remembered as Dr. Kirksey.
Dr. Kirksey, as he is still called, began practicing medicine in Mulberry in the 1920s. He purchased the "big house" in 1945 and transferred his maternity hospital there. It was later rented several times and even used as a daycare only after Dr. Kirksey died in 1966.
In an effort to preserve the historic building and its significance to the community, and that of the families who helped create it, a group of volunteers has begun its restoration.
Becky Shockley, assistant to the mayor, organized a committee to begin cleaning and repairing the building in April. She became interested in the project because her grandmother, Mary Lowrimore, has such a passion for the community and wanted to see the old hospital restored, she said.
"It’s just a part of the history and you don’t want to see it turn into nothing," Shockley said. "I think everyone in Mulberry has some kind of connection to it."
That’s true for Jimmy and Donna Moore, who are helping with the renovation. Dr. Kirksey was the one who took their blood before they got married, Donna Moore said. She told on her husband for passing out during the experience.
"Well, now, I didn’t pass out," Jimmy Moore said. "He took her blood, then told me maybe I better sit down."
Almost everyone at least knows someone with a similar story or someone who once lived in the house, Lowrimore said.
That is why Lowrimore and the other volunteers want to bring the building back to its former glory, not only to remember its history, but so that new memories can be made there, they said.
E.B. Bryant and his wife Julia were the first original owners of the land, which was deeded to them Jan 7, 1882, by the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway. They in turn gave the land to their daughter Annaliza Lasater on Feb. 19, 1908, and the house was built within the next few years.
After Dr. Kirksey died and the house was rented for the next several decades, it was deeded to the City of Mulberry on Feb. 5, 2004, by his daughter Avanelle Kirksey, son Joe Kirksey and the Kirksey Family Limited Partnership, along with all of the original historical documents.
Because of its connection to rural health care and architecture, Betty Feller, the city’s mayor at the time, was able to get the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bryant-Lasater House.
Exterior restorations were done on the home in 2008 after the city received a Department of Arkansas Heritage Grant for $29,600, but all other grant applications since then have been denied, Shockley said.
So after a kickoff meeting April 22 to determine what needed to be done and where to start, volunteers began putting in some elbow grease.
Work began during the summer, with several months dedicated solely to gutting and cleaning the interior to expose the original wood floors and walls, cutting through "a hundred years of crud," Donna Moore said.
Fundraisers help raise some of the money needed for the renovations, and in October, Avanelle Kirksey donated $12,000 to the project after seeing that the committee "was serious" about restoring the house, Shockley said.
"We didn’t have the money to do all this," Jimmy Moore said. "We were able to do the bottom floor because of fundraisers and family donations."
Now that the house has been taken down to "bare bones," the focus is on renovating several of the front rooms on the main floor, said Harlene Jackson, head of the restoration committee.
Their hope is to create a small museum to honor Dr. Kirksey and the building’s time as a maternity hospital, and also to create a space that can be rented out for events such as weddings, receptions or other events.
"We want to fix it so it can be used for different things," Lowrimore said.
A room set to the right off the front entry, previously Dr. Kirksey’s office, will be set up as a museum that visitors can view from the doorway, and will include original items such as a wooden wheelchair used in the hospital, the doctor’s instruments and an old incubator, Jackson said.
Some of the items are owned by the city and some will be on loan, Jackson said.
Both of the other two front rooms and the kitchen will be restored to provide an area that can be rented for events. Committee members also hope to create a space for a chamber of commerce or some other full time use so that the property can become eligible for more grants, Shockley said.
No time line has been set on when any sections of the restoration will be completed, as all work being done is dependent on volunteers and donations, she said.
Myron Kirksey - Joe Kirksey’s son and Dr. Kirksey’s grandson - is "amazed and overwhelmed" by the interests of Mulberry residents in the restoration, and said it is a fulfillment of his family’s hopes in donating the old hospital.
"If we get everything to work like people want it to, it will be a great addition to the community," he said.
Myron Kirksey has helped work on the project, and said he wants to see his family’s name live on with restoration of the old building.
"I would like to see my grandfather’s legacy documented so people can see what doctoring was like in a small rural community in the 1900s," Myron Kirksey said.