Located on Old Main Lawn at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, the Inn at Carnall Hall was initially built to serve as the campus’ first residential dormitory for women. Construction for the dormitory was funded by the State Legislature at a cost of $35,000 and began in 1905. Predated only by Old Main whose construction was completed in 1875, Carnall Hall currently stands as the second-oldest building on campus.
The dormitory was named in memory of Miss Ella Howison Carnall, a graduate of the University of Arkansas (1881), who for many years had served as an associate professor of English and modern languages. Her many successes as a UA student, coupled with her influence and guidance as an instructor, led the University to honor her by designating the only women’s dormitory of the time as Carnall Hall.
In accordance with the standard practice of strict separation of the sexes on college campuses, Ella Carnall Hall was intentionally built on the extreme Northeast corner of campus, the farthest distance possible from the men’s dorms. It was designed to be an island unto itself, with its own kitchen, dining room, toilets and bathrooms, and an independent steam heating plant.
Designed by the architecture firm of Charles L. Thompson and O.L. Gates of Little Rock in a colonial revival style, Carnall Hall officially opened to students in 1906.
Originally, the three-story, red-brick building featured 44 bedrooms: 36 standard-sized bedrooms on the second floor and 8 large bedrooms on the third floor. In addition, the third floor also included ten rooms for “individual piano practice.” The bedrooms were each arranged to include two large windows, affording the female residents “an abundance of light and ventilation.”
Over the years, the building experienced some changes. Front porches that originally flanked the building were removed in 1939 and in 1940 the redbrick exterior was painted white so that Carnall Hall would better match the newer limestone buildings on campus.
By 1967, as more modern residence halls had been built, Carnall Hall was no longer needed as a dormitory, and its use as a residence hall ended. Thereafter it served as a variety of uses. In 1969, Phi Gamma Delta fraternity began using Carnall Hall as its fraternity house, remaining until 1977. The Anthropology and Geography departments also moved in during the early 1970s, and the Sociology Department joined them in 1979. When the restoration of Old Main was complete in 1991, providing more space for academic departments, Carnall Hall ceased being used for academic purposes.
A chain link fence was placed around the unused building and the historic landmark continued to deteriorate. Despite having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, by the late 1990s Carnall Hall had become a candidate for demolition.
Fortunately local preservationists and former dorm residents came to the rescue and were able to successfully advocate for the preservation of the historic structure. In 2001, several bids for renovation were submitted to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees’ at which time the Board selected the Carnall Inn Development Co. LLC organized by Fayetteville developers Richard Alexander, Rob Merry-Ship, Ted and Leslie Belden, Joyce Lambeth, and Miles James as the project developers and designated the late James Lambeth, FAIA, as the project’s architect. The designated construction company for the renovation was May Construction Company.
Roughly one-third of the funding for the $7.4 million restoration project came from each of three primary sources: historic preservation grants, University funds, and funds from the Carnall Inn Development Co. L.L.C.
After a 17-month major renovation, the building reopened in August 2003 as the Inn at Carnall Hall and Ella’s Restaurant.
Many of the historical features of the building were preserved, including the original pine floors, grand first-floor staircases, windows with wavy glass, and twin columns made of horse hair and wood. In addition, the front porches which had been removed in 1939 were replaced. As it stands now, you can see the original redbrick exterior showing through the white paint, bringing the history back to the forefront and preserving a significant piece of University history.