Mixed Masonry Pioneer
By Kate Parrott
The name Silas Owens, Sr. has become ubiquitous throughout central Arkansas and surrounding areas, and synonymous with quality, integrity and — most importantly — mixed masonry design. Now, decades after his creations were completed, Owens' work has received historical preservation designation by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
"It's just a term that we made up," said Holly Hope, special projects historian with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and author of "A Storm Couldn't Tear Them Down," which describes the mixed masonry work of Silas Owens Sr. from 1938-1955. "When I interviewed masons who had done this style of house they said, 'We just always called it a rock house.' Through the Historic Preservation Program, it just always seemed like there needed to be an architectural designation for it, because it is very unique. When I describe it to people, I usually tell them that it's sandstone or limestone with brick trim around the windows, doors and porches, primarily."
While he had formal training in drafting and carpentry, his masonry skills were primarily self-taught. At the time, he did not have a car, so he hauled materials with the help of a donkey. He is said to have helped construct his first building — the reptile and elephant house at Little Rock Zoo — while in his late 20s. Owens then began to work around Faulkner County and any areas that were easily accessible to him.
"He used a herringbone pattern, which is just absolutely meticulous work," Hope said. "When you look at it up close, there are hardly ever any cracks. The mortar is just perfect; there's none on the stones. He had to choose just the right stones to put in. It's really almost artistic when you get up and look at it."
Hope said that another unique characteristic of Owens' signature style was arcaded porches and round shoulders on chimneys. The houses built in the late '30s and '40s had a lot of arcades, paired windows and almost always had a porch on them.
In her paper "A Storm Couldn't Tear Them Down," Hope wrote that, "Cream brick trim was a defining feature of the Silas Owens Sr. mixed masonry. The standard size of the modular brick used was 4" x 2-2/3" x 8". Sometimes they were wire cut with a striated design or with a mottled face, and in some cases they were smooth faced. Brick would be obtained from Malvern, Hope, Conway or Morrilton, and often the Hiegel Lumber Company in Conway would deliver the bricks to the site. Common areas of brick placement were on window and door surrounds, louvers, at all corners of the building and outlining the arches and piers of the porch and the shoulders and throat of the chimney."
About the Author
Kate Parrott was a Managing Editor at Lionheart Publishing including Assistant Editor for Masonry magazine.