Efforts continue to move forward for the proposed water and botanical garden in Cleburne County. Originally proposed 50 years ago, new life was breathed into the project by Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes and other local supporters. Since the project was first reported by The Sun-Times in June, Holmes has met with representatives, both political and private, to make the proposed project a top priority for Cleburne County.
As outlined in a meeting with local real estate leaders in late June, Holmes had meetings with staff from the offices of Senator Mark Pryor, Senator John Boozman, and Congressman Rick Crawford. He then wrote a personal letter to each, including Governor Mike Beebe, outlining his desire to revive the garden project. Days later, Holmes heard from Beebe, an ardent admirer of JFK, and informed him they were very interested in the project. A meeting was set up with staff from the offices of the congressional delegations, the Governor’s office, Senator Missy Irvin, the National Park Service, Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Natural Resources, Arkansas Parks & Tourism, and Arkansas Game and Fish. Judge Holmes was then invited to Washington, D.C., where he met with Arkansas Congressional leaders who pledged their support for the project and agreed to help find funding. Since that time, letters of support from the entire Arkansas delegation to Washington have been received as well as a letter of support from Governor Mike Beebe.
Along with political support for the project, universities around the state have pledged their support as well, including the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University (both Heber Springs and Beebe), and Harding University. “There is a wonderful educational and environmental side to this project,” said Holmes. The University of Arkansas is prepared to write grant proposal to file with the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) for the purpose of updating the original design of Edward Durell Stone to 21st century standards. Approval notification of the grant could come as early as next spring. Should the grant get approved, a feasibility study will be conducted on the existing property that had originally been set aside for the project.
Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978) was a prominent architect in the 20th century. Born in Fayetteville, Stone attended the University of Arkansas and became a successful architect based in New York City. Throughout his career, Stone was responsible for bringing modernist touches to his designs and some of his projects include the State University of New York at Albany, the Standard Oil building in Chicago, the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington. Should the water garden become a reality, not only would it be a completion of one the legacies of John F. Kennedy, it would also complete one of the legacies of Stone. Holmes spoke with Stone’s son, Hicks Stone about the project. Hicks Stone is currently a practicing architect in New York City. “He’s elated his father’s plans may finally come to fruition,” said Holmes.