Gettysburg located in rural Pennsylvania probably would have remained a sleepy little town but for…
As we traversed from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Fort Smith, Arkansas the scenery began to noticeably change. It was a great relief to pass from the largely barren plains to a more verdant landscape with rolling hills, dense vegetation and even some woodlands. Being further south the trees still had their autumn foliage, with a glorious palette of shades of yellows, reds and oranges. Sadly, it was a grey and windy day so it was not the best condition for appreciating the landscape’s splendour. The wind also provided some other challenges. Since we bought our roof box for our van we now present a sizeable target for the wind, and on days like this driving is a bit like taming a bucking bronco, which makes the journey all the more tiring for the driver!
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Fort Smith and we decided to fill the time up by visiting the Fort Smith National Monument. This is the site of a frontier fort constructed in 1817 on the banks of the Arkansas River to control the Indian Territories which bordered Arkansas (what is now Oklahoma and Kansas). The growth in white populations on the East Coast increasingly put pressure on land, so in 1830 President Andrew Jackson initiated the Indian Removal Act. Tribes from the East, namely the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, were put into concentration camps and from there they were forcibly bought together on new lands many miles from their homes. Many suffered greatly during these evictions and died in transit to their new territories. The routes travelled by these poor people is now called the “Trail of Tears”. The more one hears of the suffering of these tribes, which continues to this day, the more shameful it all seems. You would think the Government could do more to improve the plight of these people if it so desired. As time moved on these Indian Territories, being sovereign to the Indians, became a haven for criminals from all races and creeds. To meet this new challenge the role of Fort Smith became more about law enforcement rather than fighting civil unrest. The former barracks became a prison, a most unpleasant one at that, earning the name “Hell on the Border”. Running this jurisdiction was Judge Issac Parker (known as the hanging judge), a tough but fair man who recruited some hard, brave men as US Marshals to cross into Indian Territory and retrieve criminals and bring them back to face justice, which they did pretty successfully. All this story was very well presented throughout the museum – which is the old prison/barracks of Fort Smith. They even have grimly reconstructed the gallows, which could hang about 15 at a time. Some 160 inmates met their deaths this way.
After a good nights sleep, we decided to head into the historic district of Fort Smith. We had noticed the day before that the local visitor centre was in a historic building that was once a local bordello (we had to explain to our children what a bordello was …. at least in simple terms) called “Miss Laura’s”. Apparently, being a border town quite a number of these existed until 1924 when prostitution became illegal.
We were welcomed by a delightful local lady, who immediately introduced us to one of her co-workers who had some years come across from England. In fact, she was a Norwich girl and we told her we had lived there and that our daughter Emily had actually been born in that fine city. It was great fun sharing the names of towns and villages we had in common.
Before taking the tour of Miss Laura’s bordello we took a trolley bus tour of the historic district of Fort Smith. Some of the houses, dating from the late nineteenth century, were splendid. I couldn’t help but notice one was up for sale …. most tempting!!!
Arriving back at Miss Laura’s we were given a brief tour. The prohibition of prostitution was the death knell for this former house of ill repute and was latterly acquired by a local man who made it into a restaurant. This didn’t turn out well and eventually, the house fell into disrepair before it was bought by the town and restored. Unfortunately, the house was hit by a tornado in the late 1980s and was pretty much wrecked, but luckily they decided to restore it to its current glory. Although it is used as a visitor centre it is decorated in the period style of its less salubrious past.
Planning your visit to Fort Smith
|Address:||301 Parker Ave, Fort Smith, AR|
GALLOWS AND COMMISSARY 9 am to 5 pm with some exceptions for holidays.
The grounds are open from dawn to dusk
Entrance walk in – per person – $10.00
Best time to visit Fort Smith
Average temperatures in Fort Smith vary drastically. Considering humidity, temperatures feel nice some of the year, but often too hot in the summer and cold in the winter with a fair chance of precipitation about half of the year. The area is less temperate than some — in the 26th percentile for pleasant weather — compared to tourist destinations worldwide. Weeks with ideal weather are listed above. If you’re looking for the very warmest time to visit Fort Smith, the hottest months are July, August, and then June. See average monthly temperatures below. The warmest time of year is generally early August where highs are regularly around 98.5°F (36.9°C) with temperatures rarely dropping below 74.3°F (23.5°C) at night.
Where to stay near Fort Smith
1. BEARD AND LADY INN
Built in 1887 by prominent business owner Jacob Yoes, The Beard and Lady Inn began as The Chester Inn: a hotel and dry goods store. Perhaps due its sturdy hand-kilned bricks, The Inn managed to survive massive fires in 1908 and 1936 that nearly destroyed the entire town of Chester, Arkansas. After the town-wide floods of 1934 and 1957, the Inn was the only structure in Chester to survive these four disasters.
In the 1960s, The Chester Inn functioned as a store in its tiny but resilient town. By 2003, it was converted to a bed and breakfast and antique store. After spending her childhood in and around the Inn and the Railway, Lacey Hendrix returned to her family town of Chester and purchased the Inn.
For 18 months, Lacey and her team restored the historic building, careful to preserve its historic integrity. Opened to the public in 2019, the Beard and Lady Inn is more than a historic building or a hotel. Rather, it’s a respite for the weary and an invitation to travel back in time.
2. BELAND MANOR B&B