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|Nearest city||Scott, Arkansas|
|Area||975 acres (395 ha) (listed portion of plantation)|
|Built||1904 (original); 1880 (increase)|
|Architect||Charles L. Thompson (original)|
|NRHP Reference #||75000397 and 79003777 (original)
|Added to NRHP||December 6, 1975 (original)
March 21, 1979 (increase)
|Boundary increase||March 21, 1979|
Marlsgate Plantation, also known as the William P. Dortch House or the Dortch Plantation, is located on Bearskin Lake near Scott, Arkansas. The main plantation residence was built in 1904; it, along with a historically significant portion of the plantation, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The NRHP listing was increased in 1979 to cover additional building(s) dating from 1888.
Marlsgate Plantation was built by Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Dortch on the site of their first home which was built in 1888. Marlsgate was designed by the renowned Arkansas architect Charles Thompson and was the home of four generations of the Dortch family. The original property totaling 1,600 acres was a wedding gift to Mr. and Mrs. Dortch by Mrs. Dortch's parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Steele, who operated Lynnwood Plantation south of Scott beginning in 1850. Marlsgate eventually expanded to over 7,000 acres with cotton, rice, corn and soy beans under cultivation. Upon the death of her husband Mrs. Dortch divided the property equally among her five sons. Their descendants continue to farm portions of the property today.
Described as one of the finest private residences in the State of Arkansas, Marlsgate's Neoclassical, Greek Revival design features 30 rooms in a total of eleven thousand square feet of living space. On the front portico facing Bearskin Lake doric columns rise over forty feet in height. The interior features a dramatic double staircase, original beveled glass windows, sliding oak pocket doors, handcrafted woodwork and Carrara marble fireplaces.
The plantation complex includes four distinct gardens designed by the renowned Arkansas garden designer P. Allen Smith. Several outbuildings date to the original 1888 farmstead including the carriage house, a well house, a smoke house, stable house, and a pole barn, all of which are included in the National Register designation. The guest house at Marlsgste is modeled on Farmington Historic Home built in Louisville, Kentucky in 1812 and designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Marlsgate is one of only two historic plantation homes located in Arkansas listed on the National Register and meticulously preserved and restored to their original condition (the other being Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, Arkansas). Marlsgate is the only plantation home in the state which is fully furnished in the antebellum period style and available for tours and private events. It is located 14 miles from downtown Little Rock.
Historic Significance The Arkansas Delta represents a cross section of American history illustrating how people inhabited the land and sustained themselves from early frontier days after the Louisiana Purchase to the changing economies and cultures of 19th and 20th century America.
In that context, Marlsgate - and the family that lived there - is a reflection of the history of the Delta region and the rise, fall and rebirth of the American South during a period of nearly two centuries. Marlsgate also represents the historic plantation as the economic and social driver which shaped much of the agricultural enterprise of the Delta and the state of Arkansas.
Marlsgate is also one of the finest examples of a residential design by Arkansas' leading architect of the 20th century, Charles Thompson. The firm he founded, Cromwell Architects and Engineers in Little Rock, continues to thrive as a legacy to Thompson who died in 1959. Thompson's original architectural plans and drawings of Marlsgate are a part of the family archives and are on exhibit there.
From an interpretation and educational standpoint, the lives lived at Marlsgate reflect sub-themes of the larger historical trends taking place in the 19th and 20th centuries including slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming and the interaction between land owner and land worker. The collection of antique furnishings, fine art, and utilitarian objects at Marlsgate provides a unique set of museum quality artifacts and educational tools which provide an authentic learning experience for visitors.
Lake Habitat and Native American Sites In addition to the important historic buildings and gardens at Marlsgate, the property is situated on Bearksin Lake, a pristine oxbow lake that was originally a channel of the Arkansas River. Located along the Mississippi Flyway, the lake wildlife habitat features a broad range of wildlife including mirgratory waterfowl, a nesting pair of bald eagles and freshwater fish.
The banks of Bearskin Lake also served as an ideal camping ground for Arkansas' Native American cultures, most notably the Plum Bayou Culture (A.D. 650 to 1050) known for constructing Toltec Mounds near Scott. A National Historic Landmark and Arkansas state park, the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park comprises one of the largest and most impressive archeological sites in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and features the tallest mounds in Arkansas. The Arkansas Archeological Survey operates the Toltec Research Station on site. Artifacts collected from the surface of Native American sites by Dortch and Burrow family members were donated to the Toltec museum in the 1970s and are on display there.
Today Marlsgate is a private residence owned by David P. Garner, a prominent Little Rock businessman, caterer, interior designer and collector who acquired the property from the Dortch family in 1985. Mr. Garner hosts (by appointment) weddings, tour groups, private parties, corporate meetings and various performances throughout the year. The property has been featured in four movies and most recently in the documentary Plantation Homes of Arkansas, A Special Edition of Exploring Arkansas broadcast on Arkansas Educational Television Network in 2013 and 2014.
Heritage Sites in the Scott Community In addition to Toltec Mounds Archeological Park, visitors to the Scott community can also visit the Plantation Agriculture Museum operated by Arkansas State Parks and dedicated to the agricultural history of the state. The historic Dortch cotton gin is part of the museum exhibit.
In addition, visitors can tour a wide range of historic plantation and farming buildings at the Scott Plantation Settlement where the original 1888 Dortch home from Marslgate is preserved, along with the Marlsgate commissary, a corn crib and other historic structures donated by the family. The settlement also includes a Cotton Belt railroad depot (the visitor center), a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, tenant houses and a dogtrot log house.
- Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Department of Arkansas Heritage.
- The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History.
- Additional details provided by Dortch and Burrow family members.
- Oral history recordings of Madalyn Breitzke Dortch courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System.