HUNTSVILLE - Atop a bluff overlooking the town that helped build it, former Gov. Orval Faubus' mansion stirs conversation among locals and curious passers-through.
"If you're around the old-timers, they'll be talking about the home up on the hill," local attorney Howard Cain Jr. said. "They're interested in the house because a lot of it was done through their own work and contributions."
The home that stands on Governor Road is a topic of gossip and intrigue in Madison County. Gentlemen raise their eyebrows when it is mentioned and ladies whisper politely behind the soda counter at the local pharmacy.
Faubus commissioned renowned Fayetteville architect Faye Jones to design the three-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot home in 1967. A local bank foreclosed on it in 1989.
The home was auctioned several times and went through a number of owners before ending up an unsuccessful bed and breakfast in the early 1990s. In 1995, retiree Jonathan Formanek bought the home after spotting an ad for the bed and breakfast in an Arkansas travel magazine.
But for Formanek, it wasn't the stories the home's walls could tell of Faubus that attracted him. It was the way Jones designed them.
Formanek lives alone in the sprawling house and says he loves the architecture - and even restored the home to its original mustard-colored rugs and orange Formica counters. He speaks passionately about its sweeping view, swooping ceilings and 28 doors that took shape in 2 1/2 years of construction.
In a way, it's like walking into a time warp to the early 1970s.
"It irritates me because everybody calls it the 'mansion,"' Formanek said while giving a tour of the home. "They're just nosy. They have their weird stories about it ... it has 17 bedrooms or it has a pool. Nobody appreciates it for the things I'm talking about. I respect the originalness."
Formanek may have all of Faubus' original furniture for the home, but he also has another piece of history - the paperwork and receipts detailing how it was built and who paid for it. Some of it was fronted by the Orval Faubus Foundation.
"In the books it's marked $10 there, $2 from this office worker," Formanek said. "The electric company, now Arkla, donated the air conditioning units. Faubus let people come through for money during construction."
Formanek plans to donate the papers to the University of Arkansas. He wants people to learn from the house's architecture and he bristles when tourists pull up the driveway on a weekend afternoon, looking for the Faubus mansion.
"They'll say, 'I was just driving through and is this the Faubus Mansion,"' Formanek said, grimacing. "To those who say, 'Is this a Faye Jones house?' Then I'm interested."
"That's like going to Monticello to see where Jefferson lived and not marveling that he designed it. There aren't many governors who go after the best architects. Faubus was bright enough to hire him."
The home once stood amid a 240-acre tract but that dwindled to 10 acres after its multiple owners split the property. A subdivision, Faubus Heights, is now next door.
"They're trying to pick up on the mystique of Faubus," Formanek said.