Jill M. Rohrbach
Fort Smith is known for its Wild West origins, but don’t assume the city’s 2011 Heritage Festival on April 9 is limited to that piece of history alone.
“It’s truly a comprehensive heritage festival,” explained Jennifer Boulden, communications and event services manager for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s also sort of a multicultural festival.”
The event is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, and is headquartered at Immaculate Conception Church Parish Hall and Gymnasium in downtown Fort Smith. Entertainers inside the Parish Hall will be the Cherokee National Youth Choir, Irish dancers, Vietnamese dancers, Laotian dancers, and Story Teller Teddy Duncan. An antique car show will be set up in the church parking lot. Children’s activities will take place inside and outside.
Vendors will sell beadwork, Native American art and jewelry, special occasion dresses for little girls, hair bows, handmade crafts, and Native American crafts. Groups such as 4-H, Girls, Inc., Western Arkansas Ballet, and Cultural Ambassadors will have exhibits.
While the festival is free, it is also a fundraiser for the Meals For Kids program operated by Community Services Clearinghouse. The program provides weekend food to more than 2,100 children in area public schools. To raise money, the clearinghouse will offer a silent auction, raffle off a quilt and log cabin doll house, and sell chuck wagon lunches and kettle korn.
The festival takes place throughout the downtown, and includes a Heritage Festival Tour of historic and entertainment areas. The city’s rubber-wheeled trolley will make stops at these locations throughout the day. Visitors may park anywhere and take the trolley at no charge. On the tour is Immaculate Conception Church, which will provide tours of the church, Saint Anne’s Convent, and offer presentations at the chimney of President Zachary Taylor’s home site.
The Mission United Methodist Church on North 9th Street will offer special presentations on the historic African American section of Fort Smith.
Miss Laura’s Social Club will be open for visitors. Miss Laura’s is a restored turn-of-the-century brothel that is now the city’s visitor center. There will be family-friendly guided tours.
The petting zoo in Pendergraft Park will be an exciting stop for children.
The Fort Smith National Historic Site will feature African American soldiers from the Civil War era. The national award-winning garden replicating the one planted by the Fort’s officers’ wives will be open as well.
The Fort Smith Museum of History will offer a free day for guests. For a nominal charge, you can buy an ice cream treat fixed the old-fashioned way at the museum’s soda fountain.
The Trolley Museum will offer free rides on the historic electric trolley. The trolley loads at the Fort Smith Museum of History. The Trolley Museum will also be open.
Two types of wagon rides will be available. A mule wagon will load near the Fort Smith Museum of History. The short ride will include stories of the city’s past. A team of draft horses will offer free rides down 6th Street, loading at the Clayton House. Riders can view some of the area’s most historic homes.
Also near the museum, watch out for re-enacted shootouts by the Lawbreakers and Peacemakers group. The Fort Smith National Cemetery will offer guided tours.
Boulden said a big new event for the festival, which is in its third year, will be tales of Garrison Avenue. Fort Smith is already known for its Tales of the Crypt event, a fun and free family event that is held annually at Oak Cemetery. Performers portray characters from Fort Smith’s past. That event is coming up on May 1.
Based on the same principal, the Heritage Festival’s special living history event, “What a Time We Had on Garrison,” will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The program will consist of stationary presenters representing a specific person, or a building on Garrison Avenue. Others representing a person from the past will be strolling along the avenue. Festival-goers are encouraged to interact with the actors.
“So it’s all these stories behind these old buildings, like there’s a bar that used to be a morgue,” Boulden explained. “It’s all these tidbits of history that people don’t know.”
Some of the buildings featured are still there and some are long gone. Presented will be building histories of Goldman Hotel, New Theatre, Dueling Piano Bar, Arlie Muck’s & Bernie Brother’s Funeral Home, Thompson’s Furniture, Hangin’ Judge Saloon, Cole Drug Store, Adelaide Hall, Grand Opera house, First National Bank, The Boston Store, and Texas Corner.
The individuals that will be portrayed include suffragettes; John Carnall School students; Frank Dalton, a U.S. deputy marshal; a Confederate soldier; George Tilles, an early Fort Smith resident; Belle Starr, a notorious outlaw; Sam Starr, outlaw and husband of Belle Star; William Fishback, 17th governor of Arkansas; a Civil War widow; a Union soldier; and a Civil War lady.
While the main events of the Heritage Festival will be on Saturday, April 9, a free gospel concert will take place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 10 in Pendergraft Park. Various groups from local churches and youth groups will present songs of praise. Ice cream will be given to all children in attendance, while supplies last. Attendees should bring their own lawn chairs.
In addition to the festival activities, the downtown’s Park at West End will be open. Its season begins April 1. The park contains an iconic 56-foot Ferris wheel that was featured in the 1935 World’s Fair. From its vantage points are unparalleled views of the downtown, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, and the Arkansas River. The park’s carousel was built and hand-painted in Treviso, Italy. There is also a covered arcade, and food available either from the Nickel & Dime Diner, which is in a restored Pullman railcar, or concessions from the park’s British Leland double-decker bus.
Boulden added that the Farmer’s Market will be open as well. “Downtown Fort Smith is going to be the place to be,” she said.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
“Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism”