It’s cold outside…so why not visit one of The Natural State’s many great museums this winter? During January, our blogs will give you suggestions on museums throughout Arkansas that offer something for the entire family…a great chance to Warm Up with History!
For more than 100 years the Fort Smith Museum of History has been the “keeper and teller” of Fort Smith’s rich and colorful past and it does so not with stagnant, dusty displays but with interesting exhibits and ice cream. That’s right, ice cream, and some of the best you have ever tasted.
The museum is located appropriately in the 1907 Atkinson-Williams Warehouse Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The time line in the museum runs from the Native American Indians to modern day residents. Displays depict how day-to-day life was lived by the inhabitants of the region. This is the core exhibit, located on the first floor.
Being a lover of gadgets, I particularly like the Telephone Exhibit. Considering today’s technology, it’s quite fascinating to see its evolution from an 1880’s telegraph machine and an early switchboard to modern fiber-optic cable.
The museum capitalizes on up-to-date technology with its cell phone tour. By calling a local number on your cell phone, you hear a recorded tour narrated by noted Fort Smith historian, J. Fred Patton. The tour carries you through the Time Line exhibit beginning with the establishment of the first fort in 1817 up through 20th century Fort Smith.
The museum also tells the story of Fort Smith’s famous son and World War II hero William O. Darby. Darby organized and trained the First Ranger Battalion, the elite combat force also known as “Darby’s Rangers.”
There is also a display of antique tools. Unrecognizable and unknown to most of us today, they drive curiosity about what they are and what they were once used for. A replica of a 19th century woodworking shop houses one of the largest collections of antique woodworking tools in the nation. It contains both hand and foot operated tools. Many of the items date back to colonial times.
By far, the sweetest history to see is the 1920s soda fountain, where you can enjoy an old fashioned ice cream soda, floats or sundae. Housed within a reproduction pharmacy, artifacts from local drug stores can be viewed while you eat the wonderful science of food. (My other favorite thing – catching the trolley right outside the building for a short tour.)
Visit the museum gift shop for unique, locally produced pottery, baskets and crafts. Prints of historic Fort Smith are available as well as John Bell note cards. Choose from an excellent selection of books on area history.
Fun events take place at the space too, like the best Mardi Gras party in town, for example. You can also rent the upstairs for special events, whether it be a work meeting or wedding reception.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday. During the summer months of June through August, it is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children, and free for ages 5 and younger.