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A Groundbreaking Celebration will honor 225 years of true grit

A Groundbreaking Celebration will honor 225 years of true grit

A Groundbreaking Celebration
will honor 225 years of true grit

This month, Fort Smith will host one of the biggest birthday and groundbreaking parties in the city's history. And everyone is invited to attend!

The party starts at 11 a.m. Sept. 24 on the banks of the Arkansas River at Riverfront Drive and H Street in downtown Fort Smith when the U.S. Marshals Service celebrates its 225th anniversary by officially breaking ground for the upcoming construction of its $53 million national U.S. Marshals Museum.

The River Valley Community Band will play, Gov. Mike Beebe and U.S. Marshals Service director Stacia Hylton will be among the guests of honor and a Groundbreaking Community Cookout at the site will follow. Sponsored by the museum and local businesses, the cookout will provide free lunch for up to 600 people. Local banks, restaurants and volunteers will serve the food.

“This birthday celebration is going to be the biggest one we've had,” predicted David Turk, historian of the U.S. Marshals Service. “And getting to celebrate it on the site of our new museum seems like one of our best birthday presents ever. We've been wanting a permanent museum for years and it has taken a while to get to this point. Now, although there's still much to be done, we're seeing that first spark of the beginning of the museum's brick-and-mortar period.”

Turk is one of the special guests expected to attend. Others include U.S. Rep. Steve Womack; Inter-Tribal Chief George Tiger of the Five Civilized Tribes; Louie McKinney, president of the U.S. Marshals Service Association; Robert Young, museum foundation president; and John Farrell, lead sponsor of the event. Pending their legislative schedules, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Mark Pryor of Arkansas also plan to attend. “It’s such an honor for Fort Smith to host this 225th anniversary party for the first law enforcement agency in United States history, which George Washington signed into law just five months into his presidency,” noted Jim Dunn, the museum’s president and CEO.

“This is going to be a very festive event – unlike our dedication of the Hall of Honor cornerstone at the site last year that honored all deceased members of the Marshals Service. That was a more solemn occasion.”

“One of the most important factors in getting the museum located here was our community support – so this is everyone's official invitation to attend this month's special event for the museum,” he explained.

Dunn is especially pleased that Hylton and about 70 members of the U.S. Marshals Association will be meeting in Fort Smith during the week of the groundbreaking. The Marshals Association members, from all over the country, meet annually in various cities. Dunn attended their gathering last year in Orlando, Fla., to invite the group to meet here. On Sept. 22, a photographer will recreate history on the front lawn of the Fort Smith National Historic site, according to Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“J.P. Bell will position members of the Marshals Association on the lawn of the National Historic Site to recreate history by reshooting the historic reunion photo of Judge Parker's U.S. Marshals and deputies taken in 1907. The new photo will feature all members of the Marshals Association who are here,” explained Legris, also a museum board member.

“A second shot will be taken of anyone who wants to show up in frontier-era costume, as well as members of the Marshals Museum board, USMM Foundation board of directors, members and staff.”

Jim Spears, the museum board chairman, said he hopes to see as many people at the groundbreaking as the hundreds who turned out for Fort Smith's Bring It Home and Welcome Home parties during the city's years-long campaign to best all other cities competing to become the U.S. Marshals' national museum site. The Bring It Home rally of Fort Smith citizens during that campaign was key in winning over the Marshals Museum national search committee.

“We're not going to see bulldozers on the site a week after groundbreaking, but the engineering work will begin. We don't have $50 million (project completion) in hand yet, but we are moving forward. This is a national project and we need more nationwide – and statewide – support – but things are in the works,” Spears said.

“I want to emphasize how important having this national museum here will be for the economic development and tourism for our state's second-largest city,” he added. “This museum will transform Fort Smith into a national destination like never before, and bring people here to spend one or more nights. With this museum we can build a 'True Grit' experience.”

The museum's unique, abstract star-shaped design and its planned educational exhibits and Hall of Honor for fallen marshals – plus its proximity to two other national museums – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock – are expected to help make Fort Smith another national “must see” destination in Arkansas.

The museum's prime site on the Arkansas River was donated by the Robbie Westphal family of Fort Smith. Bennie Westphal, Robbie’s son and a local developer and a founding member of the U.S. Marshals Museum board of directors, is a descendant of deputy U.S. Marshal W.P. Pitcock, his great-great-grandfather on his mother's side.

Marshals Service historian Turk noted the Fort Smith area has the most descendants of U.S. Marshals and Deputy Marshals than any area he knows of.

“With groundbreaking taking place and the sale of our new Marshals Service commemorative coins coming out early next year, everyone can be assured this museum is really on its way to happening,” Turk said. And, he added, while more national involvement and fundraising is vital to the project, Fort Smith continues to set the example for those efforts.

“I don't think in its entire history there has ever been any single public celebration of the Marshals Service involving a whole community like the ones I've already seen in Fort Smith and expect in September,” Turk said. “Because I've seen the way Fort Smith has taken ownership of the spirit of the Marshals Service, and what the city has been able to do so far, and continues to do in support of the museum, I have great expectations for this national project.”


This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online