Hester-Lenz House

81
City/Town: Benton
Location Class: Residential
Year Built: 1836
Year Abandoned: 1992
Status: AbandonedNational Register of Historic Places Gutted
Photographer: Michael SchwarzGrant King
Pinterest

Built by the loving hands of numerous families, through many decades, and over multiple generations, the Hester House continues to stand today as a testimony and a sentinel for all of the souls, blood lines, and years that have passed through it. Gradually changed by the passage of each set of caring hands that would take up residence within it, the home today looks somewhat different from how it originally appeared…yet it remains the exact same house. A collection of beginnings, endings, and numerous and diverse stories and plotlines, the home today exists as the aging cover of a heritage that reads like a human anthology.

arhpp_img_hester-lenzhouseThe land that the home sits on was originally purchased from the U.S. Government in 1836 by James Hester, and the sturdy two-story log house that he built on it was based on the “dog trot” design that was common in Arkansas throughout that era. Indeed, the dogtrot, also known as a breezeway house, dog-run, or possum-trot, is a style of house that was common throughout the Southeastern United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries. A dogtrot house historically consisted of two log cabins (or “pens”) connected by a breezeway or “dogtrot”, all under a common roof. Typically one cabin was used for cooking and dining while the other was used as a private living space, such as a bedroom. The breezeway through the center of the house is a unique feature, with rooms of the house opening into the breezeway. The breezeway provided a cooler covered area for sitting. The combination of the breezeway and open windows in the rooms of the house created air currents which pulled cooler outside air into the living quarters efficiently in the pre-air conditioning era. Secondary characteristics of the dogtrot house includes placement of the chimneys, staircases, and porches. Chimneys were almost always located at each gable end of the house, with each serving one of the two main rooms.

The home and its property belonged to Hester for 14 years until, in 1850, it was acquired by John Nelson. The enjoyment that Nelson found within residing in the home is made evident in how he continued to live within it from 1850 all the way up until his death in 1873. After the death of Nelson, the property was sold from his estate and came to rest in the ownership of Jabez Smith. Smith, both a former colonel of the 11th Arkansas Infantry and former Saline County circuit judge, would reside in the house from 1873 all the way up to 1891, the year of his own death. Joseph and Salome Lenggenhager, recent immigrants from German-influenced Northern Switzerland, purchased the property from the Smith estate in 1891 and would live there throughout the rest of their lives, passing the property on down to Alwena (Lenggenhager) Lenze, their only surviving daughter. Lenz and her husband, Wilhelm Lenz, had emigrated to Arkansas from Germany in 1902. The property and home would eventually become the dwelling and residence of Oscar F. Lenz, Wilhelm and Alwena’s son, who lived there from 1922 all the way up until his own death in 1977. And today the property remains within the Lenz family and currently rests within the hands of William G. Lenz, the great-great grandson of Soseph and Salome Lenggenhager.

And throughout its many years, each owner of the home brought their own unique touches to the dwelling as they all sought in turn to transform it according their own preferences, family needs and dreams. In 1836 Hester built the home with virgin cut pine felled from the property and with red bricks formed and produced from the abundance of red clay deposits in the area, employing slave labor within its construction. Hester utilized an unusual construction technique in that the logs in the walls interlock without protruding from the ends of adjoining logs, allowing siding to be directly attached over the woodwork. Over time additional windows were added to the structure, the open dog-trot portion of the cabin was enclosed, and the original fireplaces in both the east and west pens were removed and the openings boarded up. The Nelson family ownership of the home (1850 – 1873) saw the creation of a cemetery that would come to be associated with the home and the families that would come to reside there. The Lengenhager family, upon their purchase of the home in 1891,were very quick to add a room to the east side of the east pen and the dormers to the front and side of the structure, changing the gale roof to a hip style to make the home more reminiscent of the German architecture of their dearly missed homeland. In addition to the work on the main house, a barn was also constructed on the property during this time period. Wilhelm and Alwena Lenz dug the basement under the house, added a bedroom with access to the basement on the north side of the west pen, and added a two-story addition on the north side of the east pen which would serve as a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. It’s also believed that an enclosed porch on the east side of the east room addition was added during this time period, along with a porch on the side of the kitchen addition which housed a well with a hand-pump. During the ownership and occupation of Oscar F. Lenz, the last person to inhabit and dwell with the home, indoor plumbing was added in 1977, a bathroom was added to the east side of the kitchen, an electric well pump was added to provide running water to the bathroom and kitchen, and a concrete porch was added to the east side of the structure along with a carport in 1984.

The Hester House is a home that passed through many caring hands and numerous loving families, each carefully tending to its needs and building on to it per the dictates of their own growing families. The home saw many children, a number of parents, more than a few grandparents, and even its fair share of great-grandparents. The fact that almost everybody who came into possession of the home would ultimately spend the rest of all their lives living within it gives clear evidence to what an enjoyable home and special place the dwelling and property were. And widely held to be the oldest home still standing on its original foundation throughout the entire county, even today the Hester House continues to have much to be proud of. Indeed, local tradition holds that it was the site of a meeting to determine whether or not Saline County would vote in favor of Arkansas’ statehood.

Hester House’s 156 year run of caring habitation ended in 1992, but the demise of the property and its gradual decline down to its present state actually began well before this time. Oscar Lenz, the home’s owner and primary inhabitant from 1922 through 1992, would come to face physical limitations due to an injury that he suffered as a result of his employment. His limitations and advancing age led to the decline of the property later in his lifetime, and the property has significantly deteriorated even further since his death. The roof over the bathroom addition is almost gone, the kitchen roof leaks badly, there is significant termite damage to the floor plates, the roof over the front porch is being held up with props…but even so, the property remains in the Lenz family – and the Lenz family remains both dedicated and determined to the continued survival of what has come to be their ancestral home place. Their desire and feelings in this are very easy to understand, too. After all, how many people can walk out their front door and stand on their front porch with the solid knowledge that their great-great-great grandparents walked through the exact same doorway and stood on the exact same porch well over a hundred years earlier? The rich sense of family history held within the Hester House was at one time a fairly common occurrence within the world that existed around it…but in the more modern upwardly mobile society of today, that sense of history makes the Hester House shine forth like the jewel that I continues to be.

Indeed, a collection of beginnings, endings, and numerous and diverse stories and plotlines, the home today truly does exist as the aging cover of a heritage that reads like a human anthology that stretches outward from the year 1836 right up until today – a span of 177 years and counting.

Has the last chapter been written? The last story finished?

THIS HISTORIC SITE IS PRIVATELY OWNED AND WATCHED BY LOCALS WHO WILL CALL THE COPS. DO NOT GO TO THIS LOCATION.

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  20. Is there anyway I could get blue prints for this house? I pass it everyday and I would love to be able to rebuild it somewhere else one day.

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  25. Thank you so much for posting this. I think this really puts things into a different light. I mean, I have read about this stuff before but the way you write just makes it clearer. If that makes sense

  26. Is it possible that the family would donate this house to the County or State as a museum, and funds could be gathered through donations or grants? Restoration could be done on a volunteer basis.

  27. I visited this house today… Was in the area on business. I stopped and respectfully walked the grounds and took a few pictures. The place is amazing! I would have really enjoyed getting into the barn and or the house itself but the fact that I was there uninvited as is, I chose not to intrude further!

  28. Rachel Sturm on

    I used to work with a Howard Lenz in the early 1970's at the Little Rock Municipal Water Works. He lived off of the south service road here in Benton. His parents lived in a brick house just across the drive. Is this the same Lenz family?

  29. This was home to the Nelson family for 23 years. I'm thankful it is still standing and for the care through the many years by the various owners and the support from the community

  30. I used to go there when I was a kid with my grandparents, it was pretty run down then (bout 25 yrs ago). I remember having to step around rotted boards to come upstairs. Its right down from the entrance to longhills golf course

  31. I took some pictures at this house and got a few with some spirits or ghosts. Whatever you prefer to call it! The cemetery behind the house is also really neat!!!!

  32. Nice old home with a rich family history. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work and $$$ to stop the deterioration. It would take a tremendous amount of $$$ just to get the old place in shape to be restored (from the termite infested foundation to the rusted tin roof), more $$$ to actually restore it, and then more $$$ to maintain it. I'm sure the owner would do so if they had the resources. Yes, its deterioration is heartbreaking to watch. It is even more heartbreaking to see deserving families without homes. How many affordable homes could be built for the $$$ it would take to turn this old house into a museum that would draw maybe a handful of visitors a year?

  33. This house is awesome and it lives on. I've taken a few pictures of spirits in this house. They are amazing.

  34. This house is literally down the street from me. I drive by it almost on a daily bases to and from work. I love to look at it every time I drive by. It's beautiful to me, just the way it looks. I would love to go inside. Thanks for the pics!

    • i live in the neighborhood right beside it, ive gone it before but u can barely walk because the floors are all ripped up.

  35. Tim Parsons, Sr. on

    Is it possible that the family would donate this house to the County or State as a museum, and funds could be gathered through donations or grants? Restoration could be done on a volunteer basis. I for one would be interested in helping. It would be a real addition to our County and City!

  36. I hate to see such beautiful buildings that people once loved falling down and unwanted. Makes me feel sad.

  37. When I see places like this I try to think of the laughter , the activities or ways of that place, there was probably love there once.

  38. I love this house . Everyday i take the road to work just to enjoy the view of the house. My daugther calls it the monster house

  39. Keep the pictures coming, I love seeing them, but hate seeing them in that shape. It just shows that people would rather build a new one than rebuild a old one.

  40. I have always been curious about this house and now I know. It's a shame to see it deteriorate. Thank you for the back story.

  41. Where is this house? Are the owners just letting it go?? I would love to make this a functioning home again. It doesn't look like it's too late. What's the story?

  42. I have watched this house deteriorate since I moved to Arkansas 25 years ago. Such a waste that an actual family member owns this house and has done nothing to keep it from falling apart. It will eventually be a pile of wood and then what good will it be?

  43. Such a nice article. My comment is this. If the family truly loves this house as the article strongly implies and if they are indeed strongly tied to the property as a part of their heritage…..why have they allowed it to deteriorate to this degree? I understand an old man not being able to keep up with the needed repairs but surely at least ONE member of this family was able to at least go slap a tarp on the roof when it sprang a leak? These situations anger me to no end. This piece of history will fall down into a big pile of rotten wood and rusty nails and that will be the ONLY thing future generations will have to look at.

    • I so agree with you. They don't care otherwise they would be applying for grants or getting a nonprofit status and accepting donations to fix it up. I get so man when people say they don't have funds to fix houses. Either sell it or set up a nonprofit and get grants to help fix it up and get donations from businesses and people that can use the write off.

  44. Somebody needs to get a Save this old house club started where people can come in and help clean it up, find funds to help fix it up even if it includes free donated labor. If there was a non-profit businesses can write off the donation.

  45. badexample66petdog53 on

    I wanted this house since I first saw it in 1975, when I got out of the army, and moved to Benton. Live in Pottsville, Ark now. Didn't think it still stood. I would be proud to help restore this hose if someone decided to fix it. Hell it's on the register of Historic places. We need to preserve tis house while it's still there. Let's do something about this.. don't mean to step on anyone's toes. I apologize if I did. Ed Price

  46. This is mine and my daughter's favorite house we drive past. She wants to buy it when she gets older and 'fix it up'. (She's 7 : ))

  47. Wish it could be restored into a museum or something. There's a lot of $ in that area … seems like something could be done.

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