In June 1907, George Washington Donaghey, future governor of Arkansas, successfully led a campaign to have Conway selected as the site for the new State Normal School. John James Doyne, the man who drafted the act creating the Normal School, was chosen as its first president.
Doyne would lead the school through its first decade, presiding over the construction of Cordrey Hall, a classroom/administration building that stood on the site of the present-day Burdick Building, and the first dormitory, Doyne Hall. He believed that teacher education should be focused on preparing teachers to be community leaders in the rural areas where they would be teaching.
One of the components of the Arkansas State Normal School was a “model school,” “practice school” or “training school.” Beginning around 1913, students from the surrounding area were taught by professional elementary and secondary teachers. The college students going through the State Normal program observed the professional teachers and then emulated their methods when they began “practicing.”
While the school did not always have 12 grades, in the 1920s, Conway was the only high school in Faulkner County. If a high school student came to the training school, the administration would determine what classes the student needed to take to make up for deficiencies in his or her high school education. The number of courses the student had to take often depended on the perceived quality of the high school that student had attended before coming to the training school.
The first building that the Training School called home was the Green Building. It was also an architectural model for all rural four-room schoolhouses in Arkansas. There were two large, well-lighted classrooms, one for domestic science and one for manual training. There were also bathrooms and cloak rooms.
The Training School was quite popular, and soon more room was needed to house more students. In March 1925, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a bill which allowed Arkansas State Teacher’s College (the college’s name was changed that same year) to build a new Training building. The two-story T-shaped building was located at the corner of Bruce and Donaghey, approximately where Thompson Hall is today. It had 33 rooms, a gymnasium, a library and administrative offices.
Unfortunately, this building was destroyed by fire in late 1947. Termed as the worst fire in Conway that had occurred since the Hendrix College Administration Building fire in 1928, fire department efforts were hindered by lack of water pressure and the entire roof was destroyed before firemen could effectively start applying water. They were finally able to get the fire under control and went back to the station. Later, however, the fire flared up again and destroyed the building.
In 1949, the Nolen M. Irby Demonstration Building, named for the ASTC’s fourth president, Dr. Nolen Irby, was built north of the drive to Old Main, where the current Irby Hall sits today. It had observation rooms where college students could watch the professional teachers with their classes through a one-way glass.
The Irby School remained open until 1962 when it was decided that the college needed more classroom space for its growing student body. The 150 students enrolled there opposed its closing, and carried signs during a student demonstration, but to no avail.
During the early 1980s when I was attending UCA, Irby Hall housed the English classes. I have vivid memories of sitting in an Irby classroom on a warm afternoon, listening to Dr. Douglass Butturff lecture from a raised platform about American Masterpieces. Soon afterwards, the observation windows in the halls were removed and the patio areas were enclosed to make new faculty offices.
In 1992, the old Irby Hall was razed to make way for the current three-story Irby Hall. My father, superintendent for James Cone Construction, oversaw the construction of the new building. In the summer of 1993, my husband and I, both teachers who often took summer jobs, subcontracted the final cleaning before the building was turned over to the university.
Cindy Burnett Beckman is a local freelance writer. She may be reached at email@example.com