The Couchwood Historic District is the summer vacation estate of the late Harvey Couch (1877–1941). Couch founded Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L), was president of the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway and Kansas City Southern Railway, and was a developer of rural telephone systems in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas. Couchwood consists of eight buildings on 170 acres and sits on a peninsula overlooking Lake Catherine between Hot Springs (Garland County) and Malvern (Hot Spring County). The property remains in the Couch family and is not open to the public.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, notables such as future president Herbert Hoover and humorist Will Rogers visited Couchwood. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also visited Couchwood during the 1936 Arkansas centennial celebration; Couch was the state chairman of the centennial celebration committee.
The main lodge at Couchwood was completed in August 1927 and was the first building on the estate. It consists of eight rooms, the largest being the living room and is adorned with pictures of notable visitors to the lodge. Large screened-in porches are at each end of the structure and two huge fireplaces heat the lodge. The main lodge can sleep twenty-five people and, with the other structures, can house thirty to forty visitors at a time. A large barbecue pit is in the yard, as well as a horseshoe ring.
Couch was a sociable individual who loved to share his vacation home with diverse groups of individuals, from childhood friends to presidents, nationally known industrialists to neighbors down the road. Tours of Couch’s achievements in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas often ended with a stay at Couchwood. Whenever time allowed, Couch spent time at his getaway.
When large groups visited Couchwood, the purpose of the visit was often the subject of public speculation. One gathering was reported in the December issue of Time magazine; two important visitors arrived via a monoplane that landed on Lake Catherine.
Couch often joined his visitors around the barbecue pit, and for his eastern visitors, he loved to spin elaborate tales about moonshiners in the hills across the lake. He would point out over the lake and tell visitors to look carefully to see fires burning under stills on the opposite hills. He actually convinced some of his urban visitors they were seeing fires.
The grounds at Couchwood are decorated with sculptures by Dionicio Rodriguez, also known for creating sculptures near the Old Mill in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). Couch’s personal railroad car, Magnolia, from the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad, is also located on the grounds.
The Rodriguez sculptures at Couchwood were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and the entire complex was placed on the National Register in 2001. The main lodge, designed by architect John Parks Almand, is constructed in a rustic style using red cedar logs shipped from Oregon. The other structures are also constructed of red cedar.
Couch spent the last five months of his life at Couchwood and died there on July 30, 1941. Lake Catherine, named for Couch’s only daughter, Catherine (1918–2006), was formed in 1924 by the construction of the Remmel Hydroelectric Dam on the Ouachita River.
For additional information:
“At Couchwood.” Time. December 3, 1934.
Couchwood. http://couchwood.org/ (accessed September 13, 2017).
“Couchwood Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/HS0143.nr.pdf (accessed June 11, 2015).
Silva, Rachel. “Arkansas Listings on the National Register of Historic Places: Couchwood Historic District.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 71 (Spring 2012): 64–73.”
Wilson, Stephen. Harvey Couch: An Entrepreneur Brings Electricity to Arkansas. Little Rock: August House, 1986
Wilson, Winston P. Harvey Couch: The Master Builder. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1947.
Mary Alice Chambers
Hot Springs, Arkansas