Go by bus, train, trolley, wagon or on foot and enjoy the Heritage Festival, all for free
Don’t tell any grown-ups, but the annual Heritage Festival presented by the Community Services Clearinghouse is mostly held for children. But with the generous participation of so many history and heritage sites – the Fort Smith?Trolley Museum, the Fort Smith Museum of History, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Clayton House and Miss Laura’s Visitor Center – the popular downtown festival has attracted all ages in its five-year history. Even those who come without kids are welcome at the 10 a.m.- 4 p.m event April 6.
With the exception of admission to the National Historic Site’s courthouse and jail museum (optional), almost everything at the festival can be enjoyed free of charge.
The festival has a new headquarters this year at the Frisco Station, accessible from the National?Historic Site on foot. A miniature Frisco train will take children for free rides there. Nearby Pendergraft Park will be the festival’s stage for musical entertainment and dance performances. The Choctaw Nation Youth dancers, Natchez Nation dancers, McCafferty Irish Dancers and traditional Laotian dancers will entertain at the park throughout the festival. All the dancers represent the diversity of cultures that historically lived in this region or immigrated here to make up the city we live in today.
A petting zoo will be set up at Pendergraft Park to allow kids to meet gentle farm animals and Mexican dancing horses will perform nearby.
Stroll the National Historic Site grounds to an 11 a.m. cannon firing by historical interpreters re-enacting Fort Smith’s military history. Visitors can walk to the original location near the Arkansas?River where U.S. soldiers first built a military outpost that would set up the growth of the city of Fort Smith. The Trail of Tears overlook nearby explains the forced removal of Native Americans to territory that would become the state of Oklahoma.
The Lawbreakers & Peacemakers re-enactors will give visitors a taste of the historical period when criminals and U.S. deputy marshals skirmished in shoot-outs and rough townspeople settled disputes with gunfire. Their Western town storefront scene will be at the corner of South 3rd and Parker streets. The action is loud but the good guys always win.
Mule-drawn covered wagons will take passengers aboard at the front of the Museum of History throughout the day. Step inside the Fort Smith museum to tour exhibits that survey the entire history of the city and region. At the museum’s vintage soda fountain, build your own ice cream sundae for a special discounted price.
Beside the museum, board a trolley for a round-trip in the electric streetcar to the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. See several other trolley cars under restoration and learn about Fort Smith’s electric trolley public transportation system that flourished from around the turn of the 20th century to 1933. Train afficionados will enjoy seeing the trolley museum’s massive steam engine on display, as well.
Around 3rd Street and Garrison Avenue, meet up with a cast of Living History presenters in character, including Judge Isaac C. Parker and executioner George Maledon, who carried out the hangings of those Parker tried and condemned. Other famous and infamous historical figures such as Pearl Starr and bank robber Bonnie Parker will tell the tales of their lives.
Transit buses will take visitors to locations where guided tours will be offered. Board at any of these locations.
The 1904 Frisco Station is now preserved by the National Park Service. It served as one of Fort Smith’s major hubs of transportation.
Museum of History
Located in the 1907 Atkinson-Williams warehouse, the museum offers two floors of exhibits, an interactive theater and a soda fountain.
Fort Smith Trolley Museum
Besides the trolley cars themselves, the Trolley Museum’s car barn, library and grounds offer insight into transportation history.
First National Bank
As a bank and a building, First National Bank has been important to the city and region’s history and offers an interesting presentation.
Immaculate Conception?Church/St. Anne’s Convent
The 1899 Catholic church and Sisters of Mercy convent are landmarks. The congregation and officiants of the church and convent are very significant forces in Fort Smith history.
First Lutheran Church
The 1904 First Lutheran Church is interesting just for its Gothic architecture but also represents the heritage of many Fort Smith citizens who are descended of German immigrants.
W.H.H. Clayton House
The Victorian house museum in the Belle Grove Historic District will be open for tours explaining what life was like in the 1880s for the family of federal prosecutor W.H.H. Clayton.
Miss Laura’s Visitor Center
The volunteer tour guides at Miss Laura’s are excellent at tailoring this building’s err ... “colorful” history for younger ears.
Compass Park /Park at West End
The bus will offer a stop near the vintage amusement park, which has a Ferris wheel and wooden carousel.
Heritage Festival fights childhood hunger and food insecurity:
The Community Services Clearinghouse presents the Heritage Festival with the help of volunteers and sponsors to benefit the?“Meals for Kids”?backpack program that provides weekend food to about 2,400 public school students in 84 area schools. Sue Robison, CSC community relations director, said festival sponsorships and donations are hoped to reach or exceed $20,000 for the program.
Discover the Darby Legacy Project
at Cisterna Plaza at Heritage Fest
One of the stops on the Heritage Festival bus tour will be Cisterna Plaza, a park at the corner of Garrison Avenue and North 10th Street. At this location, a new organization called the General Darby Legacy Project is working to place a statue of William O. Darby, distinguished military hero of World War II?and a native son of Fort Smith.
Darby helped to establish and train the elite commando units that would become the U.S. Army Rangers. He was known for his preference to be close to the action, alongside his Rangers. The proposed statue will depict him on a military Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycle.
On April 30, 1945, Darby was killed when a German shell exploded near him, ending his life at the age of 34. He had been leading the 10th?Mountain Division in Italy. Two days later, the Germans surrendered and Italy was liberated. For his long record of outstanding service, Darby was promoted to brigadier general, the only soldier to receive such a promotion posthumously.
The General Darby Legacy Initiative was formed to honor Darby and preserve Ranger history in Fort Smith through education, community involvement and by promoting an “All Era Ranger Reunion.” Learn more about this valiant soldier and the legacy project by stopping at the plaza, named for the Rangers’ hard-fought liberation of Cisterna, Italy.
The proposed statue is inspired by this and other photos of Darby riding a military Harley-Davidson. The life-and-a-quarter-sized bronze would depict the general on a 1942 model. Placed in Cisterna Plaza, the statue would be near Darby’s childhood home at 311 North 7th Street and the high school he attended, named Darby Junior High in his honor.