Backstory and Context
One of Arkansas’s earliest Jewish settlers, the Bohemia-born Block originally settled in Virginia before serving in the War of 1812. By 1825, he was establishing business connections in New Orleans in preparation for his move to Hempstead County. His wife, Fanny, and their seven children joined Block in their recently-completed Washington home in 1827. The successful mercantile store he owned, which would become Block & Sons, would expand into a chain across Southwest Arkansas, including locations in Fulton and Paraclifta in Sevier County. His business ownerships also included a local sawmill.
The house’s kitchen was located back and to the left of the house, connected to the back porch.
Much studying has been done on the lives of the Blocks as the first Jewish settlers in the region. The New Orleans synagogue that Abraham Block helped found was considered very liberal for its day. Contents of a refuse pit behind the house suggests the Blocks did not keep strictly kosher, at least in terms of certain hooved animals, although this may have been out of survival on the frontier. Many Jewish observances and holidays could’ve been handled by the family’s patriarch. As most of Block’s daughters married locally, they converted to Christianity.
At some point, the front porch was removed and doorway with a tall balcony was installed in the front. The porch was enclosed, and several lean-tos were built on to form a kitchen and bathroom. By the time the house was incorporated into the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, it was owned by the Catts family, which is why it carries their name. Following the park’s acquisition in the 1980s, with the help of archaeological research, the front porch and most of the frontier-era look was restored.