Historic Tour of Downtown Van Buren, Arkansas and Downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas
This historic tour will take you to well known and historic sites in two neighboring cities along the Arkansas River.
Portions of this historic courthouse date back to 1840 when the original building was constructed. While much of that structure was destroyed in an 1876 fire, some of the original building survived and were part of an 1890 expansion of the historic courthouse. This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being the oldest active courthouse west of the Mississippi River. On the grounds of the courthouse stands another historic building, the Albert Pike Schoolhouse. This schoolhouse was built in 1820 and the future Confederate General Albert Pike taught students here before he moved to Little Rock.
The Drennen-Scott House was the residence of Van Buren co-founder John Drennen and his descendants. This house is taken care of by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and used by the Historical Interpretation Program as a way to provide students with real life experience. The house is open to the public, as well as a visitor center for the building, free of charge. Guest are welcome April through November 11 am to 3 pm on Wednesdays and 10 am to 5 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Fairview Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Van Buren. This cemetery is home to the graves of early settlers and, most significantly, Confederate soldiers. The burial of individuals at this cemetery began around 1846 after the land donation by John Drennen. There are around 460 soldiers who are buried at this cemetery. Though this cemetery is historic, it is still active.
The United States Marshals Museum was located in Laramie, Washington until 2002. In 2007, the federal government selected Fort Smith as the new location of the museum and as of December 2019, the museum is still being constructed. This museum will feature exhibits that share the history of the United States Marshals with artifacts and interpretive panels with the goal of expanding knowledge about the history of federal law enforcement.
The anchor of the Belle Grove Historic District, Clayton House belonged to William Henry Harrison Clayton and now serves as a small museum operated by the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation. The museum interprets the history of Fort Smith at the turn-of-the-century through exhibits as well as guided tours, special events, and themed fundraisers that are held throughout the year such as the "Gaslight Gala." The Belle Grove Historic District is a 22-square block area on the northwestern side of Fort Smith, Arkansas that included numerous homes that date back to the late 18th century.
This statue is of a local African American named Bass Reeves. He was the first African America west of the Mississippi River to become a U.S. Marshal. He served under the jurisdiction of Judge Isaac C. Parker. This 25-foot statue depicts Reeves on horseback, with a rifle in his hand, and a dog at his side, as they head into what used to be Indian Territory.
The Fort Smith National Historic Site covers around 80 years of Fort Smith, Arkansas history from 1817 to 1896. This site primarily focuses on the years in which Judge Isaac C. Parker served the Federal Court of the Western District of Arkansas, 1875-1896. This site includes an indoor museum, several outdoor exhibits, and a walking trail that leads visitors to the foundations of the First Fort Smith. This National Park Site is a great place to take friends and family to learn more about the history of the town.
The Fort Smith Museum of History was established in 1910 and offers exhibits that interpret the history of Native Americans, early settlers of European descent, and the growth of the community in the 19th and 20th century. Highlights of the museum include the courtroom, collections of military memorabilia, exhibits related to agriculture and business, and a collection of radios and other items related to the history of technology. The historic trolley, which is part of the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, stops right outside the museum to provide rides for visitors between the two museums.
Fort Smith National Cemetery is located at the site of a local cemetery that was originally created in the early 1800s. Over 13,000 soldiers and some notable civilians have been buried at Fort Smith National Cemetery. There are multiple Civil War generals and over 1000 unidentified soldiers buried in the cemetery which continues to accept new internments. \
Dedicated in 2016, this statue honors Fort Smith local General William O. Darby, the first commander of the U.S. Army Rangers. The unit became known as Darby’s Rangers, and several area schools and a military installation are named in honor of the unit's leader. Darby was even the subject of a popular 1958 Hollywood production, Darby's Rangers. Darby led the first Americans who engaged the German army in combat in North Africa as part of Operation Torch. This statue was dedicated 71 years to the day when Darby was killed by a German artillery shell in Italy.