|FORT SMITH - WHAT TO DO|
Things to Do in Fort Smith
Make Fort Smith, Arkansas your vacation headquarters. Located in the center of the mid-south, right on the Arkansan/Oklahoma border, Fort Smith has a rich western "Wild West" heritage to share. Stay in Fort Smith and you will be in the heart of some of the most beautiful scenery these two states have to offer. In Fort Smith and within a 45 minute drive in any direction, you will find wineries, ride one of the few still operating electric trolleys in the nation, visit the only former brothel on the National Register of Historic Buildings, take a train ride through the Ozark Mountains, get an entertaining history lesson at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, splash in a great water park or walk in the boot steps of infamous western and Roaring 20's outlaws. Shop 'til you drop or relax on the shores of the Arkansas River.
Perhaps the most prominent stop is the Fort Smith National Historic Site, which includes the remains of the original 1817 fort on the Arkansas River. One of the highlights is the two-story barracks from the second fort, which in the early 1870s became the Federal Courthouse for the Western District of Arkansas. Inside is the restored courtroom of the famed "Hangin' Judge" Isaac C. Parker, and the dingy frontier jail aptly named "Hell on the Border."
Open daily except Christmas and New Year's
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Admission $5. Ages 16 and under, Free
Adjacent to the Historic Site is the Fort Smith Museum of History, a three-story building containing numerous exhibits, displays and artifacts that tell the story of Fort Smith's colorful history: from the first fort in 1817, through the westward expansion, the Civil War, Fort Chaffee, and the emergence of a modern city. One of the highlights is an old-fashioned drug store and a working soda fountain.
Closed on Sunday and Monday.
During the 1920s and 30s, streetcars were popular in most cities. The Fort Smith Trolley Museum features a working, fully-restored 1926 electric streetcar that makes regular half-mile runs between the Fort Smith National Cemetery and a west-end stop at the Varsity Sports Grill on Garrison Avenue (Main Street). Tickets can be purchased at the the Fort Smith Museum of History.
Inside the Trolley Museum‚ stop on the route‚ a fascinating collection of old railroad passenger cars, engines, old Fort Smith buses, and other transportation artifacts.
The Fort Smith Air Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the development of aviation in Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. Visitors can view a wide variety of displays honoring the pioneer and military aviators from the area, and chronicle the history of airline service to Fort Smith. Special exhibits feature the 188th Air National Guard, the Fort Smith Civil Air Patrol and the growth of corporate and general aviation in the Fort Smith area. Visitors can enjoy a self guided tour at the museum. Free.
Originally built in the 1850s, this classic Victorian Renaissance baroque mansion was greatly enlarged when bought in 1882 by William Henry Harrison Clayton, who was District Attorney during Judge Parker's tenure on the federal bench. Now fully restored and containing some Clayton family period pieces, the home features a double-door entrance and hand-carved staircases. It exemplifies the beauty and grace of the Victorian era.
General William O. Darby, founder of the famed "Darby's Rangers" group that fought in Italy during World War II, grew up in this modest home. Today it contains numerous mementos of his early years. Darby was killed in action in May of 1945. Also on display are Rangers' memorabilia and items from the Fort Smith's sister city, Cisterna di Latina, Italy. Darby's Rangers evolved into what is now the Army Rangers.
Vaughn-Schaap House (Fort Smith Art Center)
A quarter-century older than first thought, this gracious Victorian Second Empire-style home was built about 1857 by Ethelbert Bright, and had several owners before the turn of the century. During the Civil War, soldiers were billeted here. It was owned for almost 60 years by the John Schaap family until it became the home of the Fort Smith Art Center in 1959. It later was the first house restored to its original elegance when the Belle Grove Historic District was created. Galleries of fine paintings, sculptures, and permanent and changing exhibits make it worth a visit. A gift shop on the premises sells original works by local artists and artisans.
Fort Smith Art Center is open Thursday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Built in 1941, this 72,000-acre military base was the training site for thousands of troops heading overseas during World War II. In 1958 Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army and began basic training here. It served as an annual reserve training center and was the "Ellis Island" point of entrance for Vietnamese, Laotian and Cuban refugees coming to the United States. In 2005, Fort Chaffee temporarily housed thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. It was also a location used in the movies Biloxi Blues, The Tuskeegee Airmen and A Soldier's Story. Several memorial plaques honor World War II units formed here. The area of the camp that includes the barrack facilities is now part of the 7,000 acres being developed for commerical, residental and industrial purpose known as Chaffee Crossing.
Chaffee Crossing Museum District
Be sure to stop by the Chaffee Barbershop Museum where G.I.'s, including Elvis Presley, received their famous "buzz" cuts. The Enchanted Doll Museum and Vietnam Veterans Museum complete the district.
Built in 1848 by German immigrant Joseph Knoble, this three-story stone structure contains an original underground cellar where the beer was stored. The building has a colorful history that parallels much of Fort Smith's past, and now houses a popular steakhouse, Doe's Eat Place. A connecting outdoor beergarden that made Knoble's a popular 19th century gathering place is still intact.
Belle Grove Historic District
Beautifully restored homes and buildings line the streets of the 22-block Belle Grove historic District and refelct an architectural span of 150 years, including Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, Eastlake Victorian Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Craftsman, Prairie, Federal and Neoclassical architecture. Structures in Belle Grove include the homes of noted figures such as William Henry Clayton, the prosecuting attorney for Judge Parker's court; Southern Jewish author Thyra Samptor Winslow; Fort Smith forefather John Rogers; General William O. Darby, founder of Darby's Rangers (which evolved into the modern Army Rangers), the widow of brevet Brigadier General Benjamin Bonneville, former commander of Fort Smith and famed Oregon Trail explorer; and other leading citizens of early Fort Smith. The District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. Brochures for self-guided walking tours are available at Miss Laura's Visitors Center.
United States National Cemetery
When the first Fort Smith was plotted 1817, land was set aside for a military cemetery. Granted national status in 1867, the 21-acre U.S. National Cemetery contains approximately 13,000 graves‚ among them Judge Isaac Parker, General William O. Darby, founder of the "Darby's Rangers," and Belle Star‚known as the "Bandit Queen." It is one of two national cemeteries in the United States that have both Union and Confederate solders buried.
Zachary Taylor's Chimney
During the 1840s, future U.S. President Zachary Taylor was commander of the military garrison at Fort Smith. His private home was once located near what is now Immaculate Conception Church and St. Anne's Academy, at 13th and Garrison. A fire destroyed the home just before the turn-of-the-century, but what is referred to as Zachary Taylor's Chimney is still standing.
Fort Smith Symphony
Fort Smith Symphony is the oldest orchestra in the state of Arkansas. The orchestra performs classical, pops, youth and community concerts in Fort Smith and surrounding areas.
UA-Fort Smith Season of Entertainment
An exeptional lineup of shows, concerts, and entertainment, loaded with national and local talent. Tickets
Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center -8300 Wells Lake Road
Choctaw Casino- Pocola, OK
Cherokee Casino- Sallisaw, OK
Only a 15 to 20 minutes drive from downtown Fort Smith.
Arkansas Wine Country
Convention & Visitors Bureau