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Historic Schoolhouse To Become First Restaurant At Chaffee Crossing

Historic Schoolhouse To Become First Restaurant At Chaffee Crossing

By John Lovett Times Record

A new Red Rooster Bistro restaurant is being planned to occupy the historic Maness Schoolhouse in Fort Smith.

The Fort Smith Planning Commission approved a request this week from RUM Inc. to zone the unzoned site for commercial use in preparation for renovations to the building, including construction of a large kitchen and enclosure of a patio. The structure, built by the Works Progress Administration, is in the Chaffee Crossing Historic District and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“It’s a nice thing to get that thing preserved,” said Pat Mickle of Mickle Wagner Coleman Engineers, agent for RUM Inc. “It’s in pretty tough shape on the inside.”

Plans call for the 120-seat restaurant to have two driveway entrances from both Wells Lake and Massard roads. Fifty-five parking spaces already are on site.

Construction could start as early as September pending Fort Smith Board of Directors’ approval next month. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage also will have to OK the plans.

Ronnie Rouse, a partner with RUM Inc., and property co-owner Jim Meadows said the initial cost estimate for renovations is between $200,000 and $250,000. The planning commission’s approval comes with requirements for stormwater drainage and Chaffee Crossing design guidelines.

Brenda Gregory of Red Rooster Bistro said RUM Inc. approached her several months ago.

“They said ‘we want to build you a new restaurant’ and I thought ‘Nah that’s all right,’ and then they said at Chaffee Crossing and my eyes bugged out and I changed my mind,” Gregory said. “There’s going to be a big demand for a restaurant out there, and I’ll be glad to be the first.”

Red Rooster Bistro relocated from Alma in January to 4620 Rogers Ave. and began catering shortly afterward. A smaller Red Rooster Bistro location is at Brick City Emporium, 3215 S. 74th St. Gregory said she has worked closely with RUM Inc. and the architect to design a kitchen that will fit her requirements. She anticipates the new restaurant to employ 20 people, with some being part-time jobs.

“It’s a milestone for Chaffee land development,” said Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. “It will be the first restaurant at Chaffee Crossing.”

Joseph Chasteen, FCRA director of museums and historic district, said the building at 8801 Wells Lake Road was last used in 1994 by the Army Joint Readiness Training Center. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

According to the Chaffee Crossing Historic District website, the Maness Schoolhouse was completed in February 1937 and “is the only building in the entire area that was not moved or destroyed when the Department of Defense acquired 72,000 acres to build Camp Chaffee.” German POWs built the back porch in 1943.

According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the schoolhouse was the only public building in the Massard community and was the center of community life. It was used for school, Sunday school, prayer meetings, gospel singing, 4-H Club and Home Demonstration Club meetings, Christmas programs, pie suppers and ice cream socials, the AHHP states. The building was named for the John Maness family, the family that lived closest to the structure and one of the early settlers in the community.

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