Norfork History

Historic Wolf House

Jacob Wolf House        

The two-story log structure known as the Jacob Wolf House stands on a hillside overlooking the juncture of the White and North Fork Rivers in the present-day town of Norfork (Baxter County). It was constructed in 1829 as the first permanent courthouse for Izard County in Arkansas Territory and is the oldest public structure in Arkansas.

Before permanent Anglo-American settlement occurred, the juncture of  the White and North Fork rivers was the site of early fur-trading  activities. From 1819 to 1828, numerous villages of Shawnee and Delaware Indians were located nearby. Trade with these Indian tribes prompted Jacob Wolf  to establish his homestead at the mouth of the North Fork River in  1824. In 1825, he was granted a license to operate ferries across both  rivers. Wolf, of German ancestry, had arrived in the area in 1820. He  was a merchant, builder of log structures, carpenter, and blacksmith.

Izard County was created in 1825, and in 1826, Jacob Wolf was elected as a representative to the General Assembly  of Arkansas Territory. In October 1829, he successfully passed  legislation to locate the permanent county courthouse in Liberty, the  town that had developed around his homestead and ferries.

 Wolf donated  land to the county for the courthouse site and then secured the contract  for building the structure.

Wolf built a two-story log house with a central breezeway on the  first level, typically called a dogtrot, to serve as the courthouse. The  large upper-level room that extends over the breezeway served as the  courtroom. Judges and lawyers traveled from distant parts of the  territory to appear at the regularly scheduled county and territorial  court sessions. The lower level housed the county clerk’s office. John  P. Houston, brother of American legend Sam Houston, served as a county  clerk in this courthouse. 

Families from throughout the county camped on  the courthouse grounds when court was in session, socializing and  competing in games.

C. F. M. Noland, traveling up the White River in 1830, noted in an article published in the Arkansas Advocate,  noting that where the North Fork River joins the White River “…stands  the Seat of Justice, Liberty; its situation is elevated and  commanding….” Noland noted that Liberty had a tavern (inn), store, and  blacksmith shop. A post office was established here in 1826.

New counties had been created out of Izard County by 1835. Liberty  was no longer an advantageous location for the county seat, which was  relocated to the now non-existent town of Athens. Wolf, still serving in  the General Assembly, passed legislation to have the land he had  donated to the county returned to him. The structure he had built as a  courthouse then became the home of his extensive family of sixteen  children and five stepchildren. 

Thousands of early settlers followed the White River into the  interior of north Arkansas and passed by the Wolf House. Many stopped to  trade, and Wolf prospered. He was an early leader of the Baptist churches in Arkansas until his death on January 1, 1863. The house was sold in 1865.

In the late 1930s, the Jacob Wolf House came under public ownership  and was maintained over the years by the stewardship of local residents.  In the 1960s, Gerald L. K. Smith  on behalf of the Elna M. Smith Foundation restored and furnished the  house. A public dedication took place on May 8, 1966, with an address by  former congressman Claude Albert Fuller.

A 1999 Courthouse Restoration Grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program  provided funding to restore the structure to its appearance when it  served as a territorial courthouse. At that time, conflicting dates for  its construction were resolved through scientific studies. The  restoration was completed in 2002. The house was listed on the National  Register of Historic Places on April 13, 1973, and presently serves as a  museum. On October 4, 2016, the Baxter County Quorum Court voted to  transfer the property to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, which now operates it as the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.


Early Wolf House

Early Wolf House