You might think the state agency in charge of preserving Arkansas history would want to show off a bit of 19th century Little Rock it found in its own backyard, tell its story and explain what it was doing to keep it safe for the future.
It didn’t occur, however, to the Department of Arkansas Heritage that its work to document an 1890s trolley barn east of its new headquarters at 1100 North St. might be something to tout.
Fortunately, a DAH archeologist and the architect for the new headquarters, which the agency moved into this year, knew that work to build a parking lot for employees might turn up something special, and prevailed on the agency to let DAH’s archeological team monitor the work and record the site.
When the unheralded work on what was found — Little Rock’s 1890s trolley barn — was completed, the reward for archeologist Bob Scoggin, whose job performance reviews included a statement that he “has greatly improved morale and effectiveness” of staff, was his walking papers.
Scoggin, 50, whose job as the state Section 106 manager was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, submitted his resignation from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an “exemplary” employee doing a tedious and difficult job well, was told he would be fired if he did not resign. Several described the reason for his firing as “doing his job.” Records of work on the trolley barn project, obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the Times, do not reveal why Scoggin was asked to leave. They do hint that agency Deputy Director Rebecca Burkes was worried the archeologist was going to want to do more work to document the site, thus costing the agency extra money for work the contractor building the parking lot considered outside its scope. DAH has known the history of the occupation at its property at 1010, 1020, 1100 and 1120 North St. since at least 2013, when environmental site assessments on the property were done as a prelude to construction of the new headquarters. The assessment was to determine the extent of hazardous materials on the site from previous activity; FTN Associates Ltd. of Little Rock, which did the assessment, noted the properties had been developed for either commercial or industrial use “for over a century.” Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, including one dated 1897, show buildings east of the headquarters, including what it labeled the Little Rock Traction and Electrical Co. That something remained of the 19th century occupation was suggested by a geophysical survey of the property performed in December 2014 by archeologists with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, a state office. Twentieth century brick and metal buildings overlay the site; the DAH did not plan to record the site until its contractor, Ideal Construction, began work on the parking lot.
Because the site would be eligible for National Historic Register designation if a portion was intact, Scoggin and DAH architect John Greer got permission to monitor the earthwork necessary to build the employee parking lot and record what was uncovered in the process. If the site was exposed and recorded, it could be covered up without losing its eligibility; indeed, covering up an archeological site is considered good practice to preserve the site for future technology that could investigate without destroying the remains.
A little history: Little Rock’s trolley car system originated with the Little Rock Street Railway Co. in the 1870s, but it was limited to two short tracks. In 1884, according to an article in the 1892 edition of Chicago’s Western Electrician journal, the company got a contract with the city to build crosstown lines. The Capital Street Railway Co. took over the Little Rock Street Railway in 1890 and got permission from the city to electrify the trolleys (they previously ran on steam). It built a power station on the sloping bluff to the Arkansas River north of the trolley barn. The power station was supplied with coal hauled from the railroad that ran alongside the river, and was lauded in Western Electrician for its novel engineering. The journal noted that plans for the power house included a summer theater to be built on top.
The trolley barn was intact until 1968; its last occupant was Portable Kitchens Inc., manufacturers of the popular aluminum charcoal grill. Workers for contractor Ideal Construction began removing the 20th century buildings in late October. According to an accounting of his work that Scoggin submitted to Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Director Missy McSwain, the archeologist began monitoring the parking lot excavation on Oct. 24. At the end of the day Friday, Oct. 28, when a brick building was torn down, it was revealed that a 1940s addition to the barn had been still standing within the later building. Scoggin also found the western wall of a 1903 addition to the 1890 barn, and foundations of the 1903 addition. He worked over the weekend to document the site with photographs and gave DAH Director Stacy Hurst a tour. Surprised that the 1940s building was still extant, Hurst also consulted with architect Greer about future steps to document the historic site. However, Greer said in an interview, the work crew arrived at the site early Monday morning before Greer could ask them to work around the 1940s building so it could be further researched and documented; they began demolition. Greer, Scoggin and the contractors met, and concluded the demolition should continue. “What do you do with this building in the middle of a parking lot, with little of the original windows and doors? It doesn’t make much sense to try and save it,” Greer said. The archeologist did document the footprint, and asked the work crew to let them document future uncovered foundations. The contractor did preserve two wood trusses from within the building for future interpretation of the site.
To better record 1903 foundation, Greer requested a trench be deepened; that work uncovered two concrete piers to support a tank from the 1903 building. But again the work crew filled the trench in before the foundation piers could be fully documented. At the archeologist’s request, the contractor reopened the area the next day so documentation of the piers could be completed. Fieldwork stopped while the contractor removed the metal frame of another building and Scoggin told Greer, Hurst, Burkes and others that he and co-worker Tim Dodson, also a 106 reviewer, were developing a draft interpretative plan for the site.
On Nov. 11, the parking lot crew began to remove the foundation of the metal building, and, as expected, found more features of the trolley barn. Scoggin asked for, and received, help from the Archeological Survey to document the site so the contractor could wrap up the parking lot. But they found intact maintenance bays and railroad ties, and when Scoggin asked if they could be uncovered for documentation, the contractor balked, saying it wasn’t in his contract. The project manager complained to Greer and Hurst that he was being giving conflicting instructions on how to proceed and said it could delay work and cost the agency money.
Greer asked the crew to work on different parts of the site as more of the 1890s building was uncovered. “The track hoe would find something, move to another part of the site,” and the crew would shift places, he said.
An exchange of emails between Ideal project manager Matthew Karpoff and Greer notes concerns about work delays and additional costs. On Nov. 15, Karpoff submitted to the DAH a schedule of rates that would be charged for future archeological work. Later that day, Greer emailed Karpoff that he had not observed stopped construction and asked, “Can you please confirm that we were all able to work together as a team to keep Nick and his crews working and allow the owner to document this rare opportunity.” In response, Karpoff wrote he had seen some “shut down time due to the dig and subsequent observations by the state” but said Scoggin and Dodson were “working diligently and as quick as possible.”
According to the materials obtained by FOIA, on Nov. 14, Scoggin, as Section 106 manager, told Deputy Director Burkes he wanted to make sure that the agency would not be required to file a Section 106 report on the impact of the parking lot on the trolley barn site. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires a report if federal agencies are involved in a project; Scoggin wanted to verify nothing in the construction of the new agency headquarters or archeological work had federal involvement to trigger a 106 report. Burkes emailed Scoggin a favorable response, that he was doing the right thing.
However, a day later, Burkes emailed Scoggin again, this time asking if the DAH had ever received notice from the EPA or another federal agency that a 106 review would be required. Scoggin replied there was no such notice in his files, though it was possible another section of the DAH might have. At any rate, he’d learned from the feds that no 106 report was necessary, he told Burkes. Too, the monitoring that was done would satisfy the 106 review had it been required.
The DAH does not comment on personnel decisions, but the timing of his leaving the agency suggests either that the agency was ready for the work on the trolley barn to end or that it had concerns over the Section 106 issue.
Scoggin, who has worked for the state for 23 years, including at the highway department, has declined comment. But his personnel file included many complimentary remarks in addition to the one about improving morale. Assistant Director Patricia Blick wrote that:
“Bob has much experience with 106 agreement documents from his previous work. He has increased the use of agreement documents in order to codify project specific agreements and understandings developed between AHPP and our federal partners.
“Bob’s efforts rebuilding relationships with previously disgruntled constituents has produced better communication between those constituents and the program. This has also helped in the production of better, more effective 106 agreement documents. When dealing with controversies and discovery situations Bob’s ability to keep an even and calm temperament has been a great aid in steering those situations to a successful conclusion. In addition, Bob makes every effort to keep his supervisor and agency head informed regarding any potential controversies involving 106 reviews.”