For more information
AHPP can be contacted via e-mail at info@arkansasheritage.org, by phone at (501) 324-9880 and by mail at 1500 Tower Building, 323 Center St., Little Rock, AR 72201.

Arkansas’s historic gas stations

Eighteen of Arkansas’s earliest gas stations and general stores, spread across the state and built from the 1920s through the 1940s, have so far been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of historically significant sites worthy of preservation.

Listed by town, original name, address information, year of construction and with a brief comment on architectural style, they are as follows:
  • Arkadelphia, C. E. Thompson General Store and House, 3100 Hollywood, 1936, Craftsman-style;
  • Camden vicinity, Harvey’s Grocery and Gas Station, 3241 Ark. Hwy. 24, 1948, Vernacular;
  • Clinton, Walter Patterson Filling Station, U.S. Hwy. 65 between Griggs and Court Streets 1936, English Revival;
  • Fayetteville, Magnolia Company Filling Station, 429 Lafayette, 1925, Craftsman;
  • Fordyce, Marathon Oil Service Station, East Second and Spring, ca. 1928, Mediterranean-style influences;
  • Langley, Jones General Store and Esso Station, Ark. Hwy. 84-West, 1939, fieldstone-clad;
  • Little Rock, Samuel P. Taylor Service Station, 1123 West Third, 1938, Art Deco;
  • Mount Ida, Cities Service Filling Station, 204 Whittington, ca. 1925, pentagonal, Craftsman-style building, and Esso Service Station, 114 U.S. Hwy. 270, 1948, Art Deco massing combined with Spanish tile roof;
  • Paragould, Gulf Oil Company Service Station, Main at South Third, 1927, Craftsman with Mediterranean-style influences, and Texaco Station No. 1, 110 East Main, ca. 1925, Mission-style;
  • Piggott, Esso Station, 287 West Main, 1942, Colonial Revival-style;
  • Prescott, Allen Tire Company and Gas Station, 228 First St., 1924, Craftsman-style;
  • Rison, Cities Service Station, 308 Main, 1938 English Revival-style, and the Rison Texaco Station, 216 Main, ca. 1926, Art Deco;
  • Swifton, Phillips 66 Station, corner of West First and Main, ca. 1925, brick and tile;
  • Warren, Blankenship Motor Company Building, 120 E. Cypress, 1940, Art Moderne-style auto dealership/service station designed by H. Ray Burks;
  • Woodrow community (Cleburne County), Woodrow Store, Ark. Hwy. 263, 1927, Craftsman-style.


Early gas stations reflect auto’s revolution of travel

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Jim Taylor

Architecture doesn’t always have to be grand to say something about the past. Sometimes it reflects a technological change that revolutionized the way people lived.

In downtown Rison, Ark., across from the Cleveland County Courthouse, sits a cottage-like structure with steep gables indicating its English Revival lineage. In Clinton, some 135 miles to the north, another structure resembles the small Rison edifice. Their existence and their structural kinship are no coincidence.

They owe their existence to automotive pioneers such as Henry Ford and their shared, distinctive style to a combination of corporate and aesthetic sensibilities.

Both were constructed to be Cities Service gas stations, a type of business that didn’t exist before widespread ownership of the automobile. Now, both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like certain other structures in Arkansas’s cities and countryside, they serve as lasting reminders of a time when America was first adapting to traveling in machines that supplied their own power: no horse, no mule, no pedals required.

Americans get their automobiles

Cars have become such an ingrained part of American culture that gas stations are taken for granted. Yet, they have a brief, traceable history that’s tied inextricably to the rise of the automobile.

In 1893, Charles and Frank Duryea, two brothers who had been in the bicycle business, built America’s first gasoline-powered car, but they never devised an efficient manufacturing system. The first successful mass production of gas automobiles in the U.S. came in 1901 when Ransom E. Olds put out 600 of his Curved Dash Oldsmobiles. Annual production would rise to 5,000 cars in 1904.

But it was Henry Ford who first managed to deliver the automobile–specifically, his Model T–to the general public. He did so by organizing the world’s first industrial assembly line in 1913. By 1914, his plant in Highland Park, Mich., using the world’s first automatic conveyor belt, was producing a Model T every 93 minutes. In 1920, a new vehicle was rolling off the line every minute.

It was, however, more than sheer production volume that made the Model T the first popularly owned car in America. The vehicle cost $950 in 1909, $360 in 1916, and dropped to $290 in 1926.

Cars and gas in Arkadelphia

The automobile’s reported history in Arkadelphia provides a typical example of how the means of marketing gas developed as the number of auto owners grew.

Arkadelphians saw their first horseless carriage in 1903 when a Hot Springs resident drove through town. In 1908, Charles Christopher "Captain" Henderson, the successful timber, oil and banking entrepreneur for whom Henderson State University in Arkadelphia is named, became the town’s first resident automobile owner. By 1910, that number had risen to about 25.

As auto ownership continued to increase, existing businesses, such as the Arkadelphia Hardware Company, installed gas pumps at their curbsides. The hardware firm, which had been selling horse-drawn vehicles, also began selling Model T’s in 1912.

By the end of World War I, gas was generally available on America’s busiest streets and at rural crossroads. Then, as Ford’s mass production and lowered costs began bringing car ownership within the financial reach of average American households, gas stations emerged as stand-alone businesses. Arkadelphia’s first drive-in gas station opened for business in 1920.

Evolution of the gas station

In their early years, city gas stations often consisted of small, unsightly buildings and an unattractive assortment of pumps, and they drew complaints from nearby residents. As a result, major oil companies began to introduce standardized stations. Their distinctive styles were intended to build consumer loyalty by making a corporation’s stations readily identifiable to customers, and they allowed the stations to blend more compatibly into their surroundings.

Some major companies used domestic designs, such as cottages, to make stations seem more inviting and friendly to the traveling public. One such company was Cities Service, and that is why today there are similar English Revival cottage-styled stations in Rison and Clinton. Other significant architectural styles from the era, such as Art Deco and Craftsman, also found their way into gas station designs.

With further increases in the number of cars, some gas stations broadened their services into vehicle repair and the selling of tires, batteries and other auto parts and accessories. This trend became a virtual economic necessity for many stations during the hard times of the 1930s, as demand for gasoline dropped. Such changes affected station design. New buildings were made larger so automotive wares could be displayed and they often contained built-in bays for auto repair.

Preserving stations from the past

Few, if any, of Arkansas’s early gas stations are still providing fuel and many have been demolished. Yet, a significant number of the buildings remain in cities and in rural areas, having been converted to other uses. The Cities Service station in Rison, for example, now houses a shop specializing in candles and other scented items for the home. Today, such buildings are roadside curiosities, the notice of which can make one’s travels more interesting.

Clues to look for to confirm that a building was once a gas station include parking lot islands where pumps formerly stood, exterior evidence that former auto bays have been permanently enclosed, and roofed shelters extending from the front of rural buildings.

In 1999, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP), an agency of the state Department of Arkansas Heritage, began a focused effort to identify sites related to the state’s automotive history. The aim was to call attention to and preserve such places by having them listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of historically significant properties. In addition to gas stations, AHPP took note of places such as tourist courts, drive-in eateries and theaters, roadside diners, auto showrooms, and roadside attractions like small amusement parks and miniature golf courses.

"In addition to recognition of their role in Arkansas’s highway history, most of the gas stations also are listed because of their architecture," Mark Christ, AHPP’s community outreach director, said. "Even though they’re not ‘high style,’ they still reflect restrained versions of the various architectural styles."

Although 18 gas stations and general stores have been listed, Christ said a lot of eligible buildings in Arkansas remain.

"And because of our limited resources we won’t necessarily get everything on our own," he said. "We certainly encourage the owners of these buildings to contact us and we will work with them on getting their sites on the Register."

Properties must be at least 50 years old to be considered, and the owner must agree to pursue the listing.

AHPP’s web site at www.arkansaspreservation.org offers thorough information on the National Register program, including listed Arkansas sites. To view more information on Register-listed gas stations, including a photo and historical background on some, click on National Register of Historic Places and conduct a search using the word station.

AHPP can be contacted via e-mail at info@arkansasheritage.org, by phone at (501) 324-9880 and by mail at 1500 Tower Building, 323 Center St., Little Rock, AR 72201.


Jim Taylor is a travel writer for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.


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