The original Old West, Western Arkansas’ Mountain Frontier is steeped in history. Fort Smith preserves this heritage. Its first fort was built at Belle Point, where the Arkansas and Poteau rivers unite. Federal marshals rode out of the U.S. and into Indian Territory at this juncture. Outlaws collided with Hanging Judge Parker. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company maintained a division center at Fort Smith, a junction point for its southbound coaches from Tipton, Missouri, and its west bound coaches from Memphis, Tennessee. During the Civil War, the North met the South here with devastating results.
In Fort Smith, you will find many sites commemorating these places along the Trail of Tears and Butterfield Overland Mail Company route as well as Civil War advances – all part of the Arkansas Heritage Trails System. There’s no better place to experience Old West history than the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Following the release of the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Arkansas author Charles Portis’ classic novel True Grit, the Fort Smith National Historic Site is more popular than ever. Many believe the Rooster Cogburn character, a role famously played by John Wayne in the earlier film version, was based on a U.S. Deputy U.S. Marshal named Calvin Whitson who served in Judge Parker’s court.
Museums & Historic Sites
Altus Heritage House Museum
Original German-American Bank, circa 1800s, features early coal mining equipment, plus local history. 106 N. Franklin. 479-468-1310.
St. Mary's Catholic Church
Beautiful 1902 Roman Basilical style church known for its paintings and ornate goldleaf work. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Half-million-dollar renovation completed in 1999. 5132 St. Mary’s Mountain Ln. 479-468-2585.
National Commemorative Site
Located in front of Charleston middle school on Main Street, the site honors the district's role as the first public school in the South to integrate.
Belle Grove Historic District
N. Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth from N. "C" to N. "H" Sts. Restored homes and buildings line the streets of this 22-block area, reflecting a variety of architectural styles of the past 130 years. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This mansion, built in 1882, was the home of Judge William H.H. Clayton, the U.S. District Attorney in Judge Parker’s Court. Filled with period furnishings and some Clayton family belongings. The Clayton House is reportedly haunted, and evening ghost tours are held periodically throughout the year and the Halloween season. 514 N. Sixth St. 479-783-3000. www.claytonhouse.org.
The boyhood home of General William O. Darby, leader of the Darby’s Rangers in World War II, forerunner of the modern day Army Rangers. The Darby House contains tributes to Darby and artifacts from Cisterna, Italy, Fort Smith’s sister city, where Darby's Rangers fought the Battle of Cisterna in World War II. Additional displays. memorabilia and video about General Darby are on permanent exhibit at the Fort Smith Museum of History. He is buried in the Fort Smith National Cemetery. 311 General Darby St. 479-782-3388. www.fortsmith.org/the-darby-house.
Original basic training facility built in early 1940s. It was used as the Ellis Island for Vietnamese and Cuban refugees in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently used in training National Guard troops and as site available to military reunions. Ark. 22 E. 800-637-1477. www.chaffeecrossing.com
Fort Chaffee Museum District
Includes Chaffee Barbershop Museum, the site of Elvis’s first G.I. haircut, Vietnam Veterans Museum and Enchanted Doll Museum. Ark. 22 E. 800-637-1477. www.chaffeecrossing.com
Chaffee Barbershop Museum
The recreated 50's Army barbershop at the Chaffee Barbershop Museum lets tourists 'step back in time' to that day in 1958 when new recruit Elvis Presley made worldwide headlines by getting his 1st Army buzz cut at Fort Chaffee. The museum also has other unique memorabilia from Elvis' military career that was donated to the museum by the National Archives. Other exhibits at the museum honor the effect Fort Chaffee had on the state of Arkansas and the important role it played in World War II and every decade following, with stories and memorabilia ranging from U.S. military training to holding German POWs and from being the "Ellis Island" for Vietnamese and Cuban refugees to helping dislocated evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Located at 7313 Terry St.
Enchanted Doll Museum
A 1,500-square-foot museum of about 5,000 dolls from across the globe; contains a life-size Ken and Barbie; antique dolls such as Madam Alexander, Effanbee, Kewpie, Betsy Wetsy, Cabbage Patch Kids, Annie and Gerber brands. Displays include “Gone With the Wind" and Shirley Temple. Open by appointment. 7201 Terry St. 479-783-8888.
Vietnam Veterans Museum
Local Vietnam Veterans have helped create this tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War. An Army personnel carrier and helicopter sit just outside the museum for the public to view up close. Located at 12112 Redwood Dr. Tours are available by appointment only. 479-783-8888.
Maness School House
The Maness School House, completed in February 1937, is the only building in the entire area that was not moved or destroyed when the Department of Defense acquired 72,000 acres to build Camp Chaffee. German POW's built the back porch in 1943. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 2003.
This unique hillside stone amphitheater was built by German POWs at Fort Chaffee many years ago. It was restored and rededicated in 2011 and is now maintained as a City of Fort Smith park and small venue for outdoor events. The view is spectacular.
Fort Smith Museum of History
The Fort Smith Museum of History was founded over a century ago to be the “keeper and teller” of Fort Smith’s rich and colorful history. Located in an historic space – the Atkinson-Williams Warehouse Building – the museum offers two floors of exhibits. The museum tells the story of Fort Smith from its founding as a military fort in 1817 through modern day. Exhibiting the city’s treasured objects and igniting young minds through education the Fort Smith Museum of History is an extraordinary resource with an unparalleled collection. Also featuring an old fashioned soda fountain for cool, sweet treats and a unique gift shop. The Fort Smith Museum of History is located at 320 Rogers Ave. Hours of operation include June-August: Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00-5:00 and Sunday, 1:00-5:00. Septemeber-May: Tue.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Monday. Admission: $5 Adults, $2 Children, under age six-free. www.fortsmithmuseum.org.
Fort Smith National Historic Site
A unit of the National Park System, which includes the remains of two frontier forts and the 19th-century Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Exhibits interpret a significant phase of America's western expansion, including the Trail of Tears. Check the Fort Smith calendar at fortsmith.org for upcoming living history events and interpretive programs at the site throughout the year, or call the National Historic Site Visitor Center. Closed Christmas and New Years. 301 Parker Ave. 479-783-3961. www.nps.gov/fosm
- Barracks / Courthouse / Jail: The army barracks were converted in 1872 into a courthouse with a basement jail nicknamed “Hell on the Border.” A new jail wing was added in 1888, and the park has re-created a portion of the jail cells with exhibits on outlaws and deputy marshals. The courtroom used by Judge Isaac C. Parker has been restored to its 1880s appearance. Other exhibits include those on the military, Trail of Tears and conditions in Indian Territory.
- Commissary Storehouse: One of the only three structures remaining from the military period, the Commissary is the oldest building in Fort Smith. Food supplies were stored here and transported to troops stationed further west.
- Gallows: A reproduction of the 1886 gallows that existed in Indian Territory after the Civil War. In the 21 years that Judge Parker served as judge (1875 - 1896), he sentenced 160 people to the gallows. Of those, 79 were hanged.
- Trail of Tears Overlook Point: The Trail of Tears crossed through Fort Smith near the very end of the trail for thousands of Native Americans forced to leave their homes and relocate into Indian Territory. Interpretive panels and a stopping point along the river walk provide a place to contemplate what these people must have endured as they looked at the Arkansas and Poteau rivers ahead, which still had to be crossed.
- Remains of the First Fort Smith at Belle Point - See the stone foundations laid by the soldiers who built the first Fort Smith, built to keep peace among warring Indian tribes and look after U.S. interests out west, after landing at Belle Point on Christmas Day, 1817.
Fort Smith Trolley Museum & Trolley Rides
Two restored Birney streetcars that operated in Fort Smith until 1935, plus rail and transportation memorabilia. Catch the trolley 7 days a week at the Trolley Museum or the Fort Smith Museum of History for a guided half-mile tour of historic downtown Fort Smith. 100 S. Fourth St. 479-783-0205. www.fstm.org. May 1-Nov. 1: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m.; Nov. 1-May 1: Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m. Admission charged.
J.M. Sparks Home
The original interiors of this Romanesque-Victorian style home built in 1887 include hand-carved fireplaces and circular front windows. This building is listed on the National Register and now houses Taliano’s, a popular Italian Restaurant. Visit the website at www.talianos.net.
A fieldstone structure built by German immigrant Joeseph E. Knoble in 1848, now restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unique arched ceiling. It now houses the nationally acclaimed steakhouse, Doe's Eat Place. Open for Dinner Mon.-Sat. 422 N. 3rd St. 479-784-9111. Visit the website at www.doeseatplace.com/fort_smith.html.
Miss Laura's Visitor Center
Miss Laura’s Social Club was the crown jewel of Fort Smith’s once-legal red-light district at the turn of the century, and it was the first former bordello to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The beautifully restored building is now Fort Smith's official visitor center. Stop by the Visitor Center for guided tours of Miss Laura’s and pick up brochures and complete information on Fort Smith hotels, dining, shopping, events, exhibits, activities and many unique attractions while you’re there. Free, but donations accepted. 2 N. "B" St. Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m. -4 p.m. & Sun. 1-4:30 p.m. 479-783-8888. www.fortsmith.org
Streetcar #224 carries visitors on a ride that recalls transportation in Fort Smith from 1883 to 1933. Departs from the Fort Smith Museum of History on a 1/2 mile trip around historic downtown Fort Smith. It is wheelchair accessible. Runs May 1-Oct. 31: weekdays 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m. Rides are $2 per adult and $1 per child. Located at 100 S. 4th St. Call 479-783-0205 or visit the website at www.fstm.org.
Old Jail Museum Complex
Occupied in April 1891, the Sebastian County Quorum Court had the two-story solid rock building constructed as a "holding jail" for drunks and rabble-rousers. The Jail and surrounding historic properties are open May 1 through October 1, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Friday-Saturday. Special tours may be arranged through the Curator, Emily Mitchensen, at 479-252-6071. greenwoodarkansas.com.
The circa 1848 cabin was built by a bachelor school teacher and used as a residence and school until his marriage in 1850 when another room was added with a breezeway. Located near the Old Jail Museum.
Esso Gas Station
Restored 1928 Esso gas station with rare muscle cars, classic cars, antique autos, street rods and motorcycles. Esso later became Exxon. Located at 423 Mena St.
The restored 1920s Kansas City Southern Railroad Depot houses the Mena/Polk County Chamber of Commerce, tourist information and the Depot Center, a museum featuring local history, railroad displays and memorabilia, works by local artists and a 1939 Dodge police car. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 524 Sherwood. 479-394-2912.
Mena First Presbyterian Church
The Bavarian stained glass windows are perhaps the most beautiful and historic of any church in western Arkansas.
Maxey Hardware Building
300 W. Commercial St. - Built in 1900 this building was a prominent corner business in its time. Now home of the Visitor Center, Main Street Ozark, Ozark Area Film Commission and the Ozark Area Chamber of Commerce.
Franklin County Courthouse
Built in 1904, the upper part of the building was destroyed by fire in 1944. It was rebuilt in 1945. In front stands a Veteran's Memorial honoring those in the military, from Franklin County, who died serving our great country.
Old Franklin county Jail
Built in 1914 from locally quarried stone, this 2-story fortress style building features a Roman-arched entry. The second floor retains the features and character of the original cell blocks.
Ozark River Bridge
The lighted Ozark Bridge spanning the Arkansas River on scenic Highway 23 is one of the 16 most beautiful long-span bridges in the country.
Ozark Depot Museum
Built in 1911, the Iron Mountain Railroad passenger train used this station. The first train reached Ozark in 1876 and by 1888 there were four passenger trains daily.
First United Methodist Church
Built from locally quarried stone in 1909 - 1910, the church was organized in 1871.
A large collection of Indian artifacts found around Waldron is displayed. Also, early pioneer artifacts and Scott County Pictures. Located at 1205 N. Main St.
Unique meeting place for reunions and special occasions. Built from an old grain gin. 1205 N. Main Street, Waldron. Phone: 479-637-3730.
Featuring restaurants, shops and the Scott Theater, which is the oldest theater in Arkansas still in operation. Parsley’s Antiques housed in the original Parsley’s five and dime store. Many downtown buildings are on the National of Historic Places.