Zoie Clift, travel writerArkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Local history is meticulously preserved at the Grant County Museum in Sheridan. What appears to be a tiny hall from its parking lot perspective actually contains a large collection that covers the history of the area and its ties to the nation and world.
Museum Director Lindsey Stanton says visitors are usually surprised by what’s housed on the property.
“We are off the beaten path,” Stanton shares. “We are a little bit out in a field so I think visitors are expecting just to pull up to a small building and not take very long at all [to see everything on the grounds]. They think they will stay here maybe 30 minutes but they end up spending half a day. That really makes a difference to what we do here. It makes us appreciate even more what we have.”
The museum originated in 1963 as a display case in teacher Elwin Goolsby’s classroom in Prattsville. Goolsby, who served as the facility’s director until the early 2000s, set up most of the exhibits found within.
Since the early 1990s, the W.R. “Witt” Stephens Building has served as headquarters for the facility. Born in Prattsville in 1907, Stephens made millions with his brother Jack in the natural gas business. The two started Stephens, Inc., one of the country’s largest off–Wall Street investment firms. W. R. “Witt” Stephens Jr. now serves as chairman of the Foundation for the Grant County Museum.
Inside, visitors get a peek at the wide range of artifacts connected to the area. They can learn about Littleton Meek Veazey, who gave land for the city of Sheridan in 1869; view relics from the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the Civil War (150 years ago this year); and discover a large assemblage of World War II artifacts. Guests are also able to view tools used by local veterinarian William DeKalb Wylie,
explore artifacts from decades of the history of ARKLA Gas, tour an antique car gallery; and learn of local legends such as the 1939 kidnapping of Witt Stephens.
One of the nation’s largest displays of military vehicles, the Richard G. Harrison Military Vehicle Collection, can be found on the grounds. According to Ron Gortney, who has worked at the museum for 13 years, Mr. Harrison (who was from Little Rock) was in World War II in Hawaii, where he drove a Jeep and delivered secret documents. He was also an officer in the National Rifle Association and started the welding company Welsco in Arkansas.
Harrison donated the collection in 2002-2003. Artifacts that are part of the large assortment include Big Bertha (a tank retriever and artillery vehicle), a Navy communications bunker, a Jeep similar to the one that Harrison drove while in Hawaii, and a monolithic camera that enlarged photos planes took of the terrain for troop maneuvers and battle plans.
Also on the property is Heritage Square, which showcases a compilation of original buildings once found in town. These include a blacksmith shop, a turn-of-the-century school, a rural church and the Milltown Café.
“The buildings were moved and located here once the museum moved to this property in the early 90s,” says Stanton. “They are decorated and furnished to their original era, allowing visitors to experience that time frame. It’s also a great learning tool for schoolchildren. We have living history presenters like a blacksmith and schoolmarm.”
And that’s only glossing the surface of what’s housed at the institution.
“We are a surprise,” says Stanton. “We are considered a small museum but we are really not. We are across three acres here with our Heritage Square and our main complex.”
“History is such a precious thing,” she adds. “We like to preserve and show ours off. You need to know where you came from, I believe, to get where you are going. That is a big part of what we have here.”
The Grant County Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s located at 521 Shackleford Road in Sheridan – not far off Ark. 46. For more information, check out grantcountymuseum.com or call (870) 942-4496.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
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"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"