Youth of the Month: Skylar Bradford

By Carol Rolf

Historic preservation might not be on the curriculum at South Side Bee Branch High School, but Skylar Bradford would surely score an A+ if it were.

Due to his research, and with help from the community, the South Side Bee Branch School Historic District has been placed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places. Additionally, the high school’s sign was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both honors became effective Dec. 7, 2022, through the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, a part of the Arkansas Department of Heritage.

Skylar, who will be 18 this month, has attended South Side Bee Branch schools all his life. “It’s my family’s school,” he said. “My Mamaw graduated from here in 1969 and my Dad in 1992. I’ll graduate in May. It’s a special place to us and to the community.”

Photo by Bart Bradford

The high school was established in 1929. There are buildings on campus that were built by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency that employed millions of jobseekers to carry out public works projects. The WPA operated from May 1935 to June 1943.

Skylar said the idea to get the school recognized by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program occurred to him last year.

“It was my idea,” he said, smiling. “South Side hosted the state 2A baseball/softball tournament last May. As a volunteer, one of my jobs was to drive a golf cart and shuttle people back and forth. We would drive past Old Main and the white rocks that make up the South Side High School sign, and people would comment on what a beautiful campus we have.

“We do have a beautiful campus with old rock buildings that have a lot of history,” Skylar said. “So I talked to my Dad and to the school administrators, and they were all on board. Then I got in touch with Ralph Wilcox at the Arkansas Heritage Department, and he helped me … told me what I needed to do to apply for the recognition.”

Skylar said he interviewed people in the community, as well as former students; he also researched historical records. That research led to four of the buildings being included in the South Side Bee Branch Historic District and listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places — the “Old Gym,” constructed in 1936, and “Old Main,” constructed in 1941, both by the WPA; the “Lunchroom,” built in 1966 and in continuous service; and the “Old Third-Grade Building,” constructed in 1948, moved onto the South Side campus from Fort Roots in North Little Rock, also in continuous service. It is the oldest elementary building on campus.

Additionally, his research led to the high school sign being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The sign was constructed in 1937 by the National Youth Administration, a division of the WPA, and consists of approximately 5-foot-tall by 4-foot-wide field stones held together by mortar and painted white. It is repainted as needed. A cement marker was placed at the south end of the sign that reads, “NYW/2713-Y-10/1937.”

Speakers at the historic marker unveiling ceremony were Ralph Wilcox of the Arkansas Heritage Department (in white shirt, from left), Skylar Bradford, Cody Hiland, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, and Brenda Linn with the South Side Alumni Association.

Skylar said, “It’s a good deal to preserve the school’s history. I am glad I was able to help. South Side is a special place. It is the heart of our community. I like to compare it to Mayberry, a place where everyone knows everybody and no one is afraid to lend a helping hand.”

Kelly Leonard, the high school principal, called Skylar “an amazing person.”

She shares some comments from several teachers: “Skylar has been described as a mover and a shaker, as an old soul wise beyond his years.” Another teacher said, “Skylar has a keen sense of community that is not commonly found in someone his age. He appreciates the history of our area and the various friends and family connections that developed South Side School into the place it is today. Heritage is of utmost importance to him, and he feels a calling to preserve the memories and artifacts of the past.”

The senior serves as president of the Student Council and a member of Beta Club, FFA, FBLA, yearbook staff and the livestock show team. He lives in Damascus on the family farm with his father, Bart Bradford. His grandparents, Barbara Fowler Bradford and Jerry Bradford, also live on the farm. His mother, Chasity Bradford, lives in Greenbrier. His sister, Madisyn Barton, is in fourth grade at South Side Bee Branch.

This is not the first time Skylar has been involved in helping preserve the past. In 2020, he did the research that led to the Bradford Family Farm being recognized as an Arkansas Century Farm. He was also instrumental in getting the Fowler Cemetery in Damascus listed in the Arkansas Register of Historic Places in 2020.