Woolsey Farmstead and Wet Prairie Sanctuary

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Updated 12-29-2020

About the Site

Samuel and Matilda Woolsey built their home on this site in 1842 and raised their family of 13 children there. The original two-room house built on the site was expanded several times over the years. The site also features the Woolsey family cemetery, containing the headstone for both Samuel and Matilda Woolsey, and the graves of some of their children. Two brick structures, presumably a smokehouse and potato house, also remain. A nearby pole barn was constructed using very old, hewn-lumber pieces that had been salvaged from some long-removed structure, perhaps a barn.

The City of Fayetteville took possession of the house in 1999, along with acreage that would become the site of the much-needed West Side Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Woolsey Wet Prairie

Much of the land around the house was preserved as the Woolsey Wet Prairie, a 44-acre wetland restoration project that adjoins the Wastewater Treatment Facility. This was constructed to offset the 10 acres of wetlands that were altered through the construction of the wastewater treatment facility.

The Woolsey Wet Prairie was restored and is maintained through a process called Adaptive Management. Preserving microtopographs, constructing necessary earthen berms and seeding of native plant species are key steps in this process. Another essential step to help restrain invasive species, is performing controlled burns. For more information, visit EcoArkansas' Woolsey Wet Prairie page..

In December 2020, the US Army Corps of Engineers approved the City of Fayetteville's authorization to use 2.5 of the Woolsey Wet Prairie's 14.82 surplus wetland credits to offset 0.153 acres of permanent alterations to wetlands from the construction of another Clabber Creek Recreational Trail, leaving a balance of 12.32 surplus credits. This is the third time the City has used Woolsey Wet Prairie surplus credits for small municipal infrastructure improvement projects that impact wetlands, saving the City of Fayetteville tens of thousands of dollars in wetland compensatory mitigation.

An artist's watercolor rendering of the Woolsey family Homestead restored

What is the Woolsey Farmstead Restoration Project?

The Woolsey Farmstead project entails restoration of some of the buildings that comprise the original Woolsey Farmstead and reconstruction of other structures that would have been typical of a frontier farmstead of the time. This includes preservation of the portion of the house that dates to the home’s period of significance during which the Woolseys built and established their farmstead and raised their family: from the date of its original construction (1842) to the death of Matilda Woolsey in 1871. To highlight the historical record of pioneer life in Northwest Arkansas, the house’s original, hand-hewn wood frame and stone chimney will be restored and preserved to greatest extent possible.

The additions made to the house after 1871 will be removed. What remains of the presumed smokehouse and potato house will be retained and restored. Other outbuildings that are currently missing, but which would have been present on a typical farmstead during this period—such as a barn, smokehouse and chicken coop — will be reconstructed to help set the house within its historical context.

A close image of aged wooden barn raftersHistorical and Architectural Significance of the House

The central core of the house, approximately 21’ in depth and 30’ in length, is of braced-frame construction in a common “double pen” style, featuring two rooms, or “pens,” divided by a wall down the middle and featuring fireplaces at each end. The original house was tall, of white oak, and included a loft area above and a shed or lean-to on the back.

Braced-frame construction utilizes heavy timber beams, hewn from logs by hand and fitted together using a mortise and tenon joint (a slot-and-tongue style in which a carved-down end of one beam fits into corresponding hollowed-out slot in the other beam, which are then locked together with a peg). This simple, but very stable construction method should be credited for allowing the house to stand as long as it has, in spite of severe damage to other parts of the frame.

This style of construction, though commonly used in other parts of the country, is unusual for Arkansas where most homes were built of logs. The addition of a half-story loft is also fairly unique. To highlight the historical record of pioneer life in Northwest Arkansas, the house’s original, hand-hewn wood frame and stone chimney will be restored and preserved to greatest extent possible.

The History

A black and white 19th century photograph of a family of ten gathered on a wooden front porchThe Woolseys arrived in Northwest Arkansas in 1830. Washington County was located on the American frontier and had only recently been opened to white settlers after removal, through various treaties, of the Native American population. Samuel purchased 120 acres in Washington County from the Federal Government in 1838 and then 120 more in 1839, amassing a total of more than 200 acres.

Despite the family’s relative success, as demonstrated in the improvements and expansion of their family home over the years, they were no strangers to loss. Their son, Gilbert, was laid to rest in his thirties and they buried Greene at the tender age of thirteen. Jane died in Farmington in 1848 and another son, Josiah, died within the year. The family cemetery features a monument to the family members who are buried there. Samuel Woolsey died in 1858 at the age of sixty-seven. He left the farm to Matilda with the requirement that upon her death, the property pass to his two unmarried daughters, Laurana and Louisa. Matilda lived into her seventies, dying in 1871.

In 1919 the farmstead was sold to the Lester and Vella Broyles family. Multiple generations of the Broyles lived there until they sold the farmstead and its land to the city of Fayetteville around 1999.

How is this Project Funded?

The Woolsey Family Homestead Restoration Capital Improvement Project was established by City Council in 2014, and modest funds have been set aside each year to put toward the project. This fund has now amassed enough to begin Phase 1. Development will proceed in phases as necessary funding is accumulated.

Project Timeline

Phase I- Planning and Archeology

  • An architect and consulting engineers will be hired to develop the drawings and specifications for the project.
  • Archeologists will be given access to the site for investigation in hopes of revealing more information about the location of possible outbuildings.

Phase II- Early Demolition and Stabilization, Cemetery Restoration

  • The mid- to late 20th-century additions to the rear of the house will be removed. This will require some temporary shoring of the remaining structure.
  • Site clearing, including demolition of the pole barn (including salvage of the older, hand-hewn beams), removal of smaller trees and brush and removal of a large mound of fill at the southwest corner of the property
  • The historic family cemetery will be restored.

Phase III- House Reconstruction

  • This includes major reconstruction of the core structure to return it to its original vernacular two-pen home as shown on architectural drawings
  • Installation of utilities on the site, plus construction of infrastructure such as sidewalks and parking. The house could be opened to the public at this point.

Phase IV- Smokehouse Restoration and Sweet Potato Barn Reconstruction

  • Full restoration of the existing smokehouse
  • Reconstruction of the adjacent sweet potato barn.

Phase V- Outbuildings and Landscape Reconstruction

  • Final reconstruction of the grounds surrounding the farmstead
  • Construction of whatever desired outbuildings and fences become part of the final design. These elements could include fencing, pond, pavilion, education center and working urban farm.

Phase V and Beyond