Sitting squarely behind a carpet of grass that some call “Ouachita’s front lawn” and shaded by oaks and loblolly pine trees is historic Cone-Bottoms Hall, a landmark of campus since it was built in 1923. The only remaining structure from the early years of Ouachita Baptist College, its front steps are now a favorite photo spot for new students, fresh pledges before social clubs’ Induction Week and teary-eyed graduates. To think of Ouachita without it!
When the U.S. joined the fight of World War I in 1917, Cone-Bottoms was not yet a thought. Instead, an army barracks stood close to where Cone-Bottoms is today. But the war ended soon after, and Ouachita’s president at the time, Charles Dicken, shifted much of his efforts to building a stronger Ouachita with its first major fundraiser: the Endowment Campaign.
After nearly five years of working on and off toward this financial goal and for Ouachita to become nationally accredited, it was the generous contributions made by W.T. Cone and George W. Bottoms that completed the campaign. Both Mr. Cone and Mr. Bottoms were prominent Arkansas businessmen and generous supporters of Ouachita. In appreciation, a new women’s residence hall was to be named in their honor.
The old barracks was torn down, and construction for Cone-Bottoms dormitory for women began in 1921 and later was completed in 1923. For many years, Cone-Bottoms was the largest college dormitory in the state and “considered by many as the most beautiful in the South,” according to Ouachita Baptist University: The First 100 Years.
Fun fact: Before Cone-Bottoms Hall, there was first “Cone Castle” – a nickname students had given to the home that Mr. W.T. Cone had purchased and donated in 1914 to provide more male housing at Ouachita. As for Mr. Cone himself, he was an Arkansas native, first a merchant in Hamburg and later a landowner and farmer in Montrose. He eventually sold his farmland and left the area in 1922 following a national decline in cotton prices.
Mr. George W. Bottoms, on the other hand, originally was from Richmond, Va. After the devastation of the Civil War destroyed his family’s property, Bottoms – a young teenager with little money – moved to Forrest City, Ark., and began working at the store of a local merchant. His employer then offered Bottoms a partnership that set him on a path to success in the timber and sawmill industries of Texarkana, Ark. He earned a nickname as a “lumber king” and built a magnificent home on East 5th and Hickory streets in Texarkana; it was a pride of Texarkana citizens and is, even today, known as the Bottoms House.
Bottoms and his wife, Ida, also were known for being a hospitable couple who frequently welcomed visitors into their home. Both were devoted to Beach Street Baptist Church – even donating the land that the church was later built on – and gave generously to the work of their denomination as well as charitable work. Ida was a prominent war worker for the Red Cross and Liberty Loan drives, and she also belonged to the Civil League. According to the Centennial History of Arkansas, it was said of the Bottoms that “their lives have been filled with good deeds, unostentatiously performed, and they radiate a spirit of goodwill and kindliness.”
Cone-Bottoms Hall remained a women’s dormitory until the mid-1980s. In 1993, it was decided that Cone-Bottoms would be renovated as a goal of Ouachita’s Decade of Progress campaign and house all administrative offices in the same building. Andy Westmoreland, vice president of development at the time who later served as Ouachita’s 14th president, said, “More than 450 alumni and friends, representing every graduating class from 1912 to 1993 contributed to the project.” The groundbreaking ceremony for Cone-Bottoms’ renovation was held on Nov. 13, 1993, during Dr. Ben Elrod’s presidency, and became home to the Grant Administration Center – named in honor of Ouachita presidents James Grant and Daniel Grant.
What a history! And what might Cone-Bottoms’ namesakes and the Ouachitonians of 1923 think if they knew that their “most beautiful residence hall in the South” would become such an iconic symbol of Ouachita?
Perhaps they would agree with Ouachitonians today: We just could not imagine Ouachita without it.
Centennial History of Arkansas. Volume 3. By Dallas Tabor Herndon. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. Chicago – Little Rock, 1922.
Historic Texarkana: An Illustrated History. By Beverly J. Rowe. Historical Publishing Network. San Antonio, Texas, 2009.
Historical Review of Arkansas: Its Commerce, Industry and Modern Affairs. Volume 2. By Fay Hempstead. The Lewis Publishing Company. Chicago, 1911.
Ouachita Baptist University: The First 100 Years. By Michael E. Arrington. August House Publishers. Little Rock, 1985.
Ouachita Circle alumni magazine. “Ouachita awarded matching gift from Mabee Foundation.” By Jeff Root. 1993.
Ouachita Voices: Celebrating 125 Years of Academic & Christian Excellence. Edited by Trennis Henderson. Bookhouse Group, Inc. Atlanta, 2011.
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