The Bunch-Walton Post #22 American Legion Hut, one of the most distinctive legion huts in Arkansas, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 24, 2007.

Bunch-Walton Post 22 J

SUMMARY:

The Bunch-Walton Post #22 American Legion Hut is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance by virtue of its status as the only known example in Arkansas of an American Legion hut designed in a castellated, Normanesque style and under Criterion A with statewide significance for its association Civil Works Administration and with the activities of the American Legion in Clarksville. The nomination is being included within the multiple-property submission “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

ELABORATION:

The American Legion was founded in France during the relatively quiet and uneventful days that followed the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. American enlisted men from all three of the principal branches of the service then in existence — the Army, Navy and Marine Corps — were billeted in various locations for the purpose of maintaining a military presence while the negotiators worked out the details of the treaty that would outline the political future of much of Europe for the next decade. These servicemen found life during the occupation uneventful and boring, and this only compounded the frustration felt by many at not being allowed to return home to family and friends. A small group of officers — and especially Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Lieutenant Colonel George A. White — met to discuss the possibility of establishing a veterans’ organization which would include all branches of the military and which would serve the immediate purpose of providing an outlet for some of the energy and frustration felt by the occupation forces but which would also set as its larger goal the establishment of a nationwide veterans’ organization that would provide its members with both a social organization and a vehicle for voicing their collective concerns about such issues as national defense, subversive activity, radical thought, domestic social programs and veterans’ affairs.

Successive meetings over the course of the next several months in both Europe and America further defined the Legion’s mandate and purpose. However, it was the shooting of four Legionnaires during an Armistice Day parade in the lumber town of Centralia, Washington, in 1919 by socialist IWW organizers and the subsequent coverage of the trial that followed — in which the Legionnaires were portrayed as the aggressors — that both galvanized and tempered the Legionnaire spirit. Both the public and the Legion press recognized the dangers of extremism by any party while admitting the need for responsible vigilance against any activity that threatened the democratic form of government. The American Legion began to grow steadily thereafter through an organization that elected officers on the national, state and local levels and provided a voice for its members regarding a variety of national concerns. During the Depression the American Legion distinguished itself in particular through the expansion of local programs targeted at youth. Of particular note were the founding of American Legion Junior Baseball, the American Legion Oratorical Contest and Boys’ State.

The Lee Bunch Post #22 was formed in Clarksville in February 1919 when fifteen veterans applied to form a Johnson County post. It was named for Bunch, a resident of Batson who was the first Johnson Countian to die in World War I. The group initially met in local homes, churches and clubs, but in February 1932 the Civic Club sold the post for one dollar an island between the main stream and west fork of Spadra Creek near downtown Clarksville.

In 1934, the Civil Works Administration, which helped build Legion huts across the state, approved Project No. 36-34 T 2, a community building in Clarksville. The Post’s ladies’ auxiliary sold cement for seventy cents per bag to finance the building’s foundation and to raise some of the local match needed to secure CWA funding. On February 3, 1934, the Arkansas Legionnaire reported that the construction of the building was “well under way” and that Lee Bunch Post members “with a dignified ceremony under the supervision of the Masonic Order, laid the cornerstone of the community house and Legion home, Monday afternoon at five o’clock.”

The building was completed a few months later, and was officially dedicated on Memorial Day in a ceremony led by Charles Q. Kelley, the Arkansas Department commander of the American Legion. The Arkansas Legionnaire noted that “a fish fry culminating a membership contest between Russellville and Clarksville was given during the afternoon. Lee Bunch Post at Clarksville won the contest which made it necessary for the Riggs Hamilton Post of Russellville to pay all expenses for the fish fry.”

The chapter was rechartered after World War II as Bunch-Walton Post #22 in honor of Captain Raymond Charles Walton of Clark County, the co-pilot of a bomber that was shot down over Italy in 1943. He was the first casualty of that war from Johnson County.

Because of its somewhat remote location, the Bunch-Walton Post #22 American Legion Hut suffered from frequent vandalism, especially after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a levee and diverted the west fork of Spadra Creek in the 1970s, ending the building’s island status. After a tornado further damaged the windows in the 1970s, post members bricked up the openings. Plastic laminate was recently placed over the windows on the building’s front façade to simulate glass windows.

The Bunch-Walton Post #22 American Legion Hut, with its Normanesque appearance and castellated turrets, remains on of the most architecturally distinctive buildings in Clarksville. It continues to serve the local American Legion Post today as it has for 72 years, and stands as a monument to the members of the American Legion and to the role the Civil Works Administration played in bringing work to Johnson County in the throes of the Great Depression.

The Bunch-Walton Post #22 American Legion Hut is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance by virtue of its status as the only known example in Arkansas of an American Legion hut designed in a castellated, Normanesque style and under Criterion A with statewide significance for its association Civil Works Administration and with the activities of the American Legion in Clarksville. The nomination is being included within the multiple-property submission “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

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