Intriguing History Found at Dallas County Museum in Fordyce

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Paul "Bear" Bryant memorabilia in the Bill Mays Annex. Photo by Z. Clift.

Arkansas is home to many museums that spotlight the intriguing history found in the state. The Dallas County Museum in Fordyce is home to a sports annex that highlights the athletic heroes of the town. Fordyce and Dallas County have the largest number of inductees in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame of any city or county in the state. Many interesting sports tidbits have ties to Fordyce. For instance, the first high school football team in the state was organized in the city in 1904.

Located across the street from the museum, the annex is located in the Nutt Trussell building, which is the oldest (1884) two-story building in Dallas County. The  annex is known as the Dallas County Sports Museum and has exhibits highlighting many local athletes of national fame including Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Raised in Fordyce, Bryant (1913-1983) is a legend in the realm of football. Known for his trademark black and white fedora hat, many consider him one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. During his time (1958-1983) as head coach at the University of Alabama, he led the Crimson Tide to six national championships and 13 SEC championships. When he retired at the end of the 1982 season, just weeks before he died of a heart attack at age 69, he was the all-time winningest coach in college football history.

Historic railroad surveying equipment. Photo by Z. Clift.

In general, the Dallas County Museum houses many items that tie to the interesting history of the area. The 13,000 square foot museum has memorabilia on site such as items from the railroad and timber industry, exhibits highlighting local veterans and war heroes, historical telephone switchboards, pottery from Dallas County kilns (the first in Arkansas), and more.

The history of the town is tied to the railroad era. The Cotton Belt Line, which was built in the county beginning in 1880s, led to the development of the town. Fordyce is named after Samuel Fordyce ( 1840-1919), who was a major developer in the railroad industry during his era. Visitors to the museum can view historical railroad items such as original surveyor equipment.

The depth of history in the museum should be noted. For instance there are exhibits onsite honoring the varied connections people have to the area including individuals such as Admiral John Thach, who went to school in Fordyce. Thach, a World War II naval aviator and Admiral in the United States Navy, was one of the most influential naval aviators of the mid-twentieth century. He is credited with the creation of the Thach Weave, an instrumental tactical advance of aerial combat.

Historic photo of Admiral John Thach found in Dallas County Museum. Photo by Z. Clift.

The museum also pays homage to the area’s musical connections with items like an autographed Johnny Cash guitar. Cash performed a concert in town in 1982 and rode in the local Fordyce on the Cotton Belt Festival parade that year with his wife and son. The museum also houses the police ticket that was handed out to rocker Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Richards (who was taking a break from his tour to sightsee) was cited for reckless driving after stopping in town to have lunch at the 4-Dice Restaurant in the mid-1970s. His memoir Life opens with him recounting this event.

One room in the museum is devoted to items belonging to Dr. Thomas Rhine, a country doctor who set up practice in nearby Thornton in 1899. He traveled by horseback to visit patients and was runner up for “U.S. Country Doctor of the Year.” There are also displays on site where you can learn about The Fordyce Enterprise, the first newspaper in Dallas County, or see an operator switchboard from the 1950s. This switchboard lays title to handling the first person-to-person direct dialed call in the U.S.

If you want to check out the museum sometime, it is located at 221 North Main Street. The museum, which is free to visit, is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The Sports Annex is located at 200 North Main Street and is open during museum hours upon request. More details can be found by calling 870-352-7202, checking out their Facebook page here, or by visiting dallascountymuseum.org.