By Bob Pest
The Ozark Gateway Region is rich in history, dating back to the 1700’s. Not surprisingly, the region is also home to a number of outstanding museums that keep that history alive with exhibits, guest speakers, workshops, and educational programs. There are so many museums to discover and discuss that one article cannot possibly cover them all; so this will be a two-part article. Museums in Independence, Stone, and Izard County are featured in Part I; museums in Fulton, Lawrence, Sharp, Jackson, and Randolph counties will be featured in Part II, which will come out in early fall. We hope that these articles will inspire many of you to visit the museum in your community; even more importantly, we urge you to take your children and introduce them to people, places, and events that shaped our region.
The Stone County Museum is, appropriately, located in a building with its own rich history. The building which eventually housed the museum was built in 1928 to replace the Stone County Academy, which had stood near the site. For a decade it was the sole facility for area students in grades one through twelve. In 1938 a gym was built and the high school moved to that location. Five years later the elementary school moved into new facilities. This left the original building to house grades one through three for the next thirty years. In 1974 a new elementary school was built and the original building was used for a kindergarten and band hall. In 1984 the building was purchased by the Stone County Historical Society, the City of Mountain View, and Stone County and the Stone County Museum was born. The building was placed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places in 2004. In 2006, the museum was expanded to include a larger research room and more space for Stone County artifacts. The building currently houses the museum and the Loy and Freda Daum Massey Research Room.
The museum’s many exhibits include a tribute to entertainer Dick Powell, born in Mountain View in 1904. Powell’s family moved to Little Rock in 1909 and the entertainer never returned to Mountain View. A glass case full of press clippings, photos, and other memorabilia provides a look at Powell’s impressive career as a singer, actor, producer, director, and studio boss. Powell’s birthplace is still standing on the north side of Main Street.
The Mountain View Room resembles a mid-20th century barber shop, complete with barber’s chair, sink, and shoe shine station. The equipment belonged to Howard Engle, the town barber for many years who also happened to be a deaf mute, as was his wife. The exhibit also showcases the first stop light in Mountain View, at Main and Peabody, installed in 1960 and removed soon after due to public complaints. A stop sight was eventually installed at the intersection of Highways 5, 9, and 14.
Harold Sherman, one of the more colorful characters in Mountain View history, receives considerable attention in the museum. Sherman was well-known as the writer of boys’ sports and adventure books. He moved on to Broadway plays and toured the country promoting mind-to-mind communication, also known as ESP. Sherman lived in both New York and Hollywood before discovering Mountain View by accident on a trip to Chicago. In 1947 he moved permanently to Mountain View, where he became an important voice in rural electrification, securing paved roads, and in the development of Blanchard Springs Caverns and the Ozark Folk Center. In 1958 he created a pilot for a TV series, “My Dog Sheppy,” filmed in Mountain View and Blanchard Springs. The series never made it on air, partly due to the popularity of another popular television dog named Lassie. DVD copies of the extremely interesting pilot can be purchased at the museum. Many of the items on display in the museum were donated by the Sherman Family. The museum also contains an early 1900’s kitchen exhibit, a large safe from the same era, a number of pieces of vintage furniture, and dozens of carefully-preserved photographs. A well-chosen and prepared variety of print materials offers plenty of background information and will enrich your museum visit.
The Stone County Historical Society plans to restore the building’s exterior to its original condition with hopes of a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The museum, located at 204 School Avenue, is open from mid April through the end of October. Friendly, helpful volunteers host the museum on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 PM. Admission is free; contributions are greatly appreciated.
Calico Rock is one of Arkansas’ most storied communities, with roots that go back to the days of Spanish explorers. The new Calico Rock Museum is a work in progress that promises to offer a bridge between the town’s heritage and culture and the unique experience of visitors. The museum is located in the historic Bank of Calico Rock Building on Main Street. It is built around three themes: the Development of Calico Rock, Calico Rock as an Economic Center, and Everyday Living in Calico Rock’
The museum was developed with assistance from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Public History graduate program. The partnership combines the resources of UALR and the talent and energy of its graduate students with the enthusiasm and commitment of the community. The new museum also enjoys a partnership with Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville.
French fur-traders named Calico Rock because of the uniquely-colored bluffs jutting up from the river. While blasting for the railroad in the early 1900s, much of the coloration was lost. Over the past 100 years, the unique coloration has begun to return through natural processes. Calico Rock’s White River location provided a perfect landing for trappers, traders, and settlers attracted by the rolling hills and fertile valleys.
The town developed as a trading and bartering area, steam boat landing, commercial and
wholesale center, and railroad boomtown. But while the coming of the railroad in 1902 changed everything, it almost bankrupted an empire. Railroad tycoon Jay Gould was laying rail from Memphis to Kansas City to expand his inland empire. He brought the railroad to Calico Rock, though other routes would have been more direct and easier to build. His decision turned Calico Rock into a boom town almost overnight; unfortunately, the cost of the ambitious and challenging project nearly bankrupted Gould.
Thanks largely to the railroad, Calico Rock became a major force in the economic development of the region. People brought their livestock, timber, cotton, and other commodities to the landing at Calico Creek to barter and trade. When the steamboats began traveling up and down the river, merchants traveled from around the region to barter, trade, and buy goods to sell in their shops in towns dotting the countryside. The Home was a steamboat built at Calico Rock. Electric power was generated in Calico Rock long before rural electric cooperatives came along. When industry faltered, the White River helped launch a new era fueled by fishing, hunting, and tourism.
The museum’s current collections and exhibits celebrate the town’s colorful history, from pre-historic times to the late 20th century. The most recent additions honor the town’s river heritage with a boat dock, a vintage steering wheel, wheelhouse, smoke stacks and other artifacts from the riverboat era. The museum also houses a miniature version of the Ozark Queen, the last of seven steamboats that navigated the White River until the early twentieth century. All seven boats are recognized in the museum with buoys boasting their names. The museum also contains a large collection of arrowheads, railroad memorabilia, and photographs. Informative descriptive panels accompany most exhibits, timelines, and narrative descriptions.
The Calico Rock Museum shares a large building with the Calico Rock Artisan Cooperative, featuring jewelry, woodworking, stained glass, dolls, hand-made soap, books, photographs, and other creations by artists, writers, and other talented people in the region. The museum, located at 102 Main Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is free.
Located in the foothills of the Ozarks in Batesville, the Old Independence Regional Museum preserves and presents the history of 12 counties that were part of Independence County in 1820: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff. The building that houses the museum was constructed by the WPA in 1936 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been restored, and opened as a museum in 1998. Its interior architecture is expansive and modern. Its exhibits are interpretive and educational.
The Region on the Move exhibit chronicles how travel in our region has evolved over time. The exhibit focuses on wagon, train, and automobile travel. It features a Springfield covered wagon, a 1904 Brougham Carriage, and a 1930s gas station and gravity gas pump. The Shawnee Room explores Native American life in our region. This exhibit examines the culture of the Shawnee who settled to the north in the present day Yellville area. The 1930s Depression Era Back Porch highlights what life was like for families in our region during the Great Depression. It provides a revealing look at how people “made do” during the Depression Era and the important role children played during that harsh time.
The Civil War exhibit explores Secession, the War, and Reconstruction, as well as the reunions that followed the conflict. A scrapbook contains several primary documents–letters between a Civil War soldier and his family and receipts–for visitors to examine. The newest exhibit, “Looking Back: How Toys, Tools and Togs have Changed,” focuses on how common everyday items have changed over the years. The exhibit includes implements and equipment from Vera and Agnes Beauty Shop, located in downtown batesville in the 1940’s and 50’s. Most fascinating is the “torture device” used to create “permanent waves” for women customers. Each roller was attached to an electric cable, creating a strange Medusa look. Tools represented include an anvil and a sandstone tool sharpener, reminders of what work was like before electricity. The exhibit is also strong in the toy department, with Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Matchbox Cars, toy soldiers, marble collections, paper dolls, and hand-made dolls.
The Archival Research Wing contains a library of books pertaining to General Historical Information, Arkansas Resources, Civil War, Native Americans, and published Family Histories. Shelves are dedicated to books, transcriptions of public records, and historical journals from each of the twelve counties served by the museum. A public access computer, microfilm reader/printer, and video-viewing station are available. Research takes place around comfortable tables in a pleasant environment with volunteers to assist visitors.
The museum Gift Shop offers hard to find and unique gifts. Among the many varied items for sale are books about the history of the region and the state, original quilts, botanical cards, locally handcrafted jewelry, homemade scented and unscented goat milk soap, handcrafted bags, bears, and angels made from old quilts, family tree charts, hand turned wooden vases, art pottery, and pottery game boards.
Children’s items, many priced under three dollars, include a wide variety of fossils, minerals, books, plush animals, and historical toys.
Old Independence Regional Museum is located at 380 S. Ninth Street. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, legal holidays, and Easter. Admission is $3 for adults; $2 for adults over 55; $1 for children over 6; and $2 for archival research. Schools are encouraged to schedule tours; the average length is one hour and fifteen minutes. Group rates are available for groups of ten or more with a reservation. Specialized group tours and group workshops are available with reservations but additional fees may apply. Call 870-793-2121 or visit www.oirm.org for more information.
For more information on area museums or other attractions visit www.ozarkgateway.com or call 1-800-264-0316.