Heritage Month – Corydon Wassell House

Corydon WassellThe Corydon Wassell House is a one-and-one-half story wood framed Victorian cottage.. The 1882 house is located at 2005 South Scott Street, outside both the Governor’s Mansion and MacArthur Park Historic Districts. There are quite a few Victorian cottages in the vicinity, but it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 2, 2000, in recognition of it being the birthplace and residence of Dr. Corydon Wassell.

Born in Little Rock on July 4, 1884, Corydon McAlmont Wassell (called “Cory”) was born to Albert and Leona Wassell. A grandson of Little Rock Mayor John Wassell, he graduated from what is now UAMS in 1909. In 1911, he married Mary Irene Yarnell, with whom he would have four children.  In 1914, the couple volunteered to be Episcopal missionaries in China.  He served there until 1927. Following Mary’s death and his remarriage, he and new wife Madeline Edith Day Wassell returned to Arkansas in 1927.

Dr. Wassell resumed his medical practice. Given his experience with malaria in China, he proved to be an asset fighting malaria among Civilian Conservation Corps members in Arkansas. He was subsequently called to active duty in the Navy in 1936 and stationed in Key West.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was stationed in Indonesia. In early 1942, he refused to abandon his patients after the Japanese started invading Indonesia. Instead, he was able to evacuate a dozen severly wounded men over 150 miles to get to a ship. It took ten days for the ship to get to Australia, during which time it was attacked numerous times.  His official Navy Cross citation notes that he disregarded personal safety while caring for others.

He became an instant international hero. During the early days of the war, his heroism was one of the few bright spots. James Hilton wrote a biography of him; President Roosevelt praised him in a fireside chat; Cecil B. DeMille filmed a movie with Gary Cooper playing him.

Dr. Wassell’s first cousin, Sam Wassell, was serving on the Little Rock City Council at the time. He would later serve as Little Rock Mayor.

After retiring from the navy with the rank of rear admiral, Dr. Wassell worked for a time without pay at a charity hospital in Hawaii. He eventually returned to Key West, Florida. Later, he returned to Arkansas to be near family. He died on May 12, 1958, in Little Rock at the age of seventy-four. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.