George Washington Donaghey: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Recently, the University of Central Arkansas revealed plans for the development of the Donaghey Corridor. At the center of this plan is Donaghey Avenue, named for George Washington Donaghey, governor of Arkansas from 1909 to 1913.

Before becoming governor, George Donaghey was a carpenter in Conway. Although he was born in Louisiana, Donaghey considered Conway his home. He first came to Conway in the mid-1870s to visit his uncles, William and John Ingram.

William was an incorporator of Conway while John owned a farm that would eventually provide land for the old Conway airport. His cousin, Sally, also lived in Conway with her husband, John H. Hartje, another incorporator of Conway.

It was during this first visit that he began developing the carpentry skills that would eventually shape his life. He also tried his hand at farming some land along the Arkansas River. Unfortunately, he became a victim of the malaria epidemic that spread through Conway in 1876 and was forced to go to Texas where the prairie winds were said to be more conducive to recovery.

He returned to Conway a few days before Christmas in 1879 and moved in with his Uncle William again. He had developed his construction skills in Texas so he went to work as a construction worker. One of those construction jobs took him to John Pence’s cabinet shop. Pence was also an undertaker, opening Pence Funeral Home in 1879. Donaghey went to work for Pence as an apprentice, learning how to build cabinets and caskets.

Donaghey then decided to pursue a degree from the University of Arkansas. After his first year of studies, he came back to Conway for summer vacation. But instead of returning to Fayetteville in the fall, he married Louvenia Wallace, a friend of his cousin, Sally Hartje. He also resumed his work at John Pence’s cabinet shop and undertaking establishment.

Pence made him a partner in 1886 just before the shop (and most of the Conway business district) burned. After the fire, they split the business and Donaghey took over the cabinet shop.

Donaghey’s first contract to build a large building was the Bank of Conway on Front Street, completed in 1890. After the successful completion of the bank, he became a full-time contractor and sold the cabinet business. His next project was Tabor Hall, which served as the Hendrix College dining hall for decades. He also oversaw the construction of the college’s North and South dormitories.

Donaghey and Pence won the contract to build Old Main at Central Baptist College in 1891. Two years later, Donaghey was awarded the contract to build a new Faulkner County courthouse to replace the one that burned in 1890. Unfortunately, building the courthouse left him deeply in debt because the county script he was issued lost 85 percent of its value during the depression of 1893-1897.

He was able to earn some additional money by erecting the Arkansas School for the Deaf chapel which then enabled him to complete the courthouse.

His success and growing reputation led to contracts for buildings all over the state. Shortly after the turn of the century, he built the Donaghey Building on Parkway in Conway. This building houses Ott Insurance today. Profits from these ventures helped pay for a new three-story house on Western Avenue in Conway where he lived until he was elected governor in 1908.

Donaghey was also a civic leader during his time in Conway. He contributed financially to the campaigns that brought all three colleges to Conway. Furthermore, he spearheaded the campaign that brought the Arkansas State Normal School to Conway in 1907.

Shortly after Donaghey moved to Little Rock to begin his first term as governor, his house on Western Avenue burned. In 1913, Jo Frauenthal built a house at that location. Louvenia Avenue, named after Donaghey’s wife, extends from Donaghey Avenue to where the Donaghey house once stood.

Governor Donaghey would preside over the building of the Arkansas State Capital during his time in office. After his last term in office, he built one final building in Conway. Old Main at Arkansas State Normal School (now UCA) was built in 1917.

Donaghey did not return to live in Conway after his two terms as governor. Instead, continued to live in Little Rock. But this “carpenter from Conway” always considered Conway home.

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