Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fort Smith, AR

As many times as I have driven past Fort Smith, I had never stopped. This was the time to stop. Arkansas allows overnight stays at their visitor centers and rest areas, so we parked overnight at the visitor center, exit 3, I-40. After obtaining much literature and directions, we disconnected the vehicle and headed into downtown Fort Smith. First stop was the old fort.

This was the administration building of the second fort. The first fort was built in the early 1800s, but was abandoned by the 1830s. After 14 years the U.S. once again decided they needed a fort to help with keeping peace in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The first fort was in pretty bad shape, so a new one was built nearby. Above is the main building of the second fort. I believe it was finished about 1848. It was held by both confederate and union armies during the civil war, but utlimately held by the union. Only the part of the building on the left is the original building. The newer part on the right was built following the civil war. Following the war the U.S. decided they needed a fort closer to the Indian Territory, so they moved the military operation to Fort Gibson in what is now Oklahoma. The fort then was used by the territory for its civil offices, including Judge Parker;s (known as the hanging judge) courtroom and the local jail.

Here is a replica of the gallows used in the 1870s and 1880s. 79 hangings were done here. Judge Parker had a reputation as the hanging judge, but over his 20+ years as judge he heard over 13,000 criminal cases and only sentenced 160 of these to death by hanging. Of those 160, only 79 were actually hung. He only sentenced men and women who murdered or raped to the gallows. Horse thieves were not sentenced to death by Judge Parker.

There is now a museum and this is a reproduction of how his courtroom would have looked. They know this by old pictures.

At the site of the first fort there is this cannon.

Next to the fort is this old train depot. It is being restored to become a U.S. Marshalls Museum.

A few blocks away was the red light district. Miss Laura's was one of 6 houses of ill repute in one block. It is now a National Historical Site. Since it closed as a whorehouse back in the the 1940s, it has been privately owned and also a restaurant. It was restored in the 1980s and has been a visitor center for downtown Fort Smith since the 1990s.
It looks essentially the same today as it did 100 years ago. It was damaged by a tornado some years back, but was restored to its original state. Even the furnishings are as original as possible, several pieces of furniture even belonged to Miss Laura herself.

As you can see, it was quite expensively furnished. This was the parlor where gentlemen would come and relax and visit with the girls before choosing which one he wanted. No money changed hands between the gentlemen and the ladies. The gentlemen met with Miss Laura when they arrived and paid her, then she gave them a token which they would then present to whatever lady they wished to spend time with.

We left Miss Laura's and found the Trolley Museum where we took a trolley ride on one of the original Fort Smith trollies.

This is a picture of a trolley purchased for $1000 some 13 years ago.

This is now how the trolley looks after some $200,000 and 13 years of restoration.

Nearby is a National Cemetary. Most confederate soldiers have their own cemetaries, but this one has both union and confederate. One of only 2 we were told.

We finally figured out the markers with U.S. Soldiers, really meant Union Soldiers. I kept looking for markers that said Union, just like the others said Confederate.

About 10 miles away was another battlefield. It is now a city park at the end of a residential neighborhood.

It's hard to imagine 2 lines of soldiers standing in lines facing each other, so close they could see each others faces, and then firing at each other.
Next we traveled about 20 miles to Van Buren. They still run a scenic train out of this old train depot.

The old downtown is 2 blocks of historical buildings.

There was a book shop which was obviously closed, but carts of books were outside. Then we noticed the above sign.

Notice the name on the side of the building. We never did find out what it meant. Now is is a restaurant.

1 comment:

Diana said...

Wow, that looks like a lot of fun. I'll have to put it on my list.