The Saline Courier Weekend
Benton’s historic Gann Building
Located just a few blocks from the Saline Courier in the historic district of Benton is the Gann Building — the only known building in the world to be constructed out of bauxite.
Throughout its 130-year history, the structure has served as a doctor’s office, a library, and now, a museum.
In 1890, physician Dr. Dewell
Gann moved to Benton from
Atlanta, where he had graduated from Southern Medical College in 1886. Shortly after his arrival, he married Martha Whithorne, the daughter of Col. Samuel
Whithorne, who owned the Saline
Gann worked as a doctor for several Arkansas companies, eight of which were industrial plants and four were railroads. Eventually Gann would start his own medical practice on South Market Street in Benton.
The structure known as the Gann Building was built in 1893, made of locally sourced bauxite. Why bauxite? The story goes that the office was built for Gann by patients who worked in the local bauxite mines near the town that bears the name of our state mineral. The patients were unable to pay for Gann’s medical treatment.
Because bauxite is a soft ore, it can be sawed into blocks, hardened for a few weeks and then used for construction. The three-room office had two waiting rooms for patients (one for men and one for women) and an exam room.
After Gann’s practice became successful, he founded the Saline County Medical Society in 1903. Gann’s son, Dewell Jr., eventually joined his father’s medical practice. Like his father, Gann Jr., was a successful doctor and was named a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1925.
Gann Jr. began teaching at the University of Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences) in 1914 as a professor of surgery and remained as a professor there until he retired from teaching in 1936.
He also served as chief of staff at St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock from 1922 to 1927. Gann
Jr. is best known for being the inventor of the lung resuscitator, which was purchased by the U.S. government in 1940 and is credited with saving thousands of lives during World War II.
Gann Sr. died in September 1945, and a year later, his son donated the Gann Building to the city of Benton for use as a public library. In 1967, the library moved to a larger facility, so the city designated the Gann Building as a museum to interpret and preserve the history of the Gann family and Saline County. Gann Jr. died in January 1960, at his home in Benton at age 70.
The building was placed on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places in October 1975.
Now known as the Gann Museum, the building features an impressive collection of Niloak pottery (made in Benton), native American artifacts, and memorabilia related to the early history of Saline County. Items once owned by the Gann family are on display as well. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.thursday-saturday and admission is free. For more information, you can visit the museum’s website at gannmuseum.com.
On Nov. 28, the Benton City Council passed Resolution 132 of 2022, by which the city of Benton entered into an agreement to allow the Saline County library system to lease and operate the
So if you’re looking to learn more about the early history of Saline County or simply intrigued at the thought of the only building in the world made of bauxite, now you know the perfect place to visit.