NORMAN HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY
By Shirley Manning
When the town of Womble, Arkansas, had its beginning it was little more than a crossroads in Southern Montgomery County. It wasn’t until the depot in the town of Black Springs, the intended terminus of the Gurdon–Ft. Smith Railroad, failed to materialize that Womble was born, in 1907. (The town changed its name to Norman in June 1925.)
Three Womble brothers, along with their mother Celia Womble, saw an opportunity to advance themselves and the community and quickly purchased the area now known as Norman, where they created a new town.
The Black Springs Lumber Company, also intended for the town of Black Springs, located itself in the new town to be near the railroad. It was by this means that the virgin timber was cut and transported out of Montgomery County to various parts of the country.
Womble became the largest town in the county, with over 900 people. It also had the distinction of being the only town with a railroad, a depot, and the first to have electric lights and a library, The town was home to the first accredited high school in the county, and home to the first football team.
We know this school as the old Norman High School, first named Caddo Valley Academy. It was constructed by Dr. John T. Barr, Jr. and was in operation from 1924–1971. Dr. Barr ran his Caddo Valley Academy from the Norman Public School on the hill, at the crossroads in town, for the first three years, having founded it in 1921. Students were housed in the old Hillside Hotel, which had been purchased by Dr. Barr at a foreclosure sale. Later, Dr. Barr turned the old hotel/dormitory into a home for underprivileged children.
Caddo Valley Academy (NHS) was constructed in 1924-25, by Dr. Barr and the Arkansas Presbyterian Synod’s Home Missions Committee. Dr. Barr ran both the school and the children’s home. He came to Womble as a circuit preacher expecting to stay one year. Instead, he spent his life in the town and dedicated himself to the service of the church, the town, and her people.
In 1930, Arkansas was in the midst of school consolidation and Dr. Barr’s school was hard-pressed to meet the requirements set by the state. Norman was also pressured to meet state consolidation requirements. As a result, Dr. Barr and the Presbyterian Synod leased the high school building to Norman School District #28, for a period of 49 years. The entire lease price was one dollar. It was understood that Bible would continue to be taught, but no such stipulation was set forth in the lease.
The school closed at midterm 1972, after further consolidation combined Caddo Gap with Norman and a new school was constructed at Caddo Hills, half way between the two towns. The last NHS graduating class was in 1971. However, the class of 1972 was issued senior rings bearing the Norman High School emblem, and a diploma bearing the Caddo Hills name. Graduation exercises were held in the Norman gym.
The beautiful old masonry and fieldstone building went into private ownership after the school moved to Caddo Hills, and for the past 30 plus years it has been left to the elements.
On October 15, 2001, a nonprofit corporation, (Norman Historic Preservation Program, Inc.) made up of former NHS students, purchased the building. They are currently working to restore it for use as an educational/cultural center.
The School Complex has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This listing consist of the administration building (NHS), the home economics building, and the gymnasium. It does not include the old lunchroom. However, the corporation only owns the administration building.
Norman Historic Preservation Program, Inc. needs your help in renovating the old Caddo Valley Academy Administration building, (Norman High School) and in making our dream of an educational/cultural center come true.
Before the programs at the center can be undertaken the building must be renovated. We have come a very long way in the past six years, but our most immediate need (bathrooms) has yet to be met. We are in need of financial assistance, we have received NO grant money. Become a member of N.H.P.P., Inc. ($30 per year) and with your dues you will help preserve the best of the past for the future.
Come by for a guided tour and learn how you can help.