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Founded in 1974, the Rogers Historical Museum is the largest and most comprehensive history museum in Benton County. The museum is a department of the City of Rogers and is governed by a city commission. The museum’s mission is to serve the community through educating the public, preserving the local heritage, and providing enriching and enjoyable experiences for all. By 2019, the museum had become a campus within four blocks of downtown Rogers.
In 1974, the Rogers City Council, at the urging of Councilwoman Opal Beck and in response to citizen concerns about the loss of local heritage, formed a museum commission to oversee the creation and operation of a city history museum. The commission leased space in a 1905 bank building in downtown Rogers and began collecting historic artifacts. The first chairperson of the commission was civic leader Vera Key.
In October 1975, the Rogers Historical Museum celebrated its grand opening. During its early years, the museum was operated largely by volunteers. In 1982, the museum hired its first director, Marianne Woods, and moved into its own building, the Hawkins House. This 1895 five-room brick building was furnished as a late-nineteenth-century home and opened for guided tours. As the house was much smaller than the old bank building, many collections were placed in storage.
In 1987, a 5,600-square-foot addition named in honor of Vera Key was completed, providing space for collections storage, offices, and exhibit galleries. A full-time registrar was hired, and the collections were moved back into the museum. In 1989, the museum was honored as the 1988 “Museum of the Year” by the Arkansas Museums Association for these accomplishments. The museum’s second director, Jan Harcourt, and registrar Marie Demeroukas guided the museum through this period of growth.
In 1992, the museum significantly expanded its staff and was the only museum in Arkansas to receive a general operating support grant from the Institute of Museum Services, a federal agency that awards grants to museums across the nation. Two years later, the museum produced the first of four traveling exhibits, “Final Respects: Dealing with Death in the Victorian Era.” The museum also began the Hawkins Hundred Project, raising over $30,000 to undertake an extensive renovation and reinterpretation of the Hawkins House. The completed project won a commendation from the Victorian Society in America and an “Excellence in Preservation through Restoration” award from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.
In 1995, the city turned over to the museum a historic post office building (built in 1919), which was renovated for use as an education and collections storage annex. That same year, the museum’s leadership passed to its third director, Dr. Gaye Bland, and the institution again received the “Museum of the Year” award from the Arkansas Museums Association.
In 1999, the Rogers Historical Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums. In 2004, it won both the “Educational Program of the Year” award from the Arkansas Museums Association and a certificate of commendation from the American Association for State and Local History for its 2003 school program, “The Van Winkle Story.” In 2006, the museum purchased property for a major expansion planned within the next decade. In 2013, John Burroughs took over as director.
In 2016, the city purchased the Rogers Morning News Building. Located across the street from the Rogers Historical Museum, the building had been built in 1947 as the Hailey Ford Motor Company. The building was granted to the museum by the city for its expansion efforts. In addition, the museum was awarded one of the first Walton Family Foundations Design Excellence Grants. Through the grant, de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop of Louisville, Kentucky, was hired along with Nabholz Construction to oversee the design and construction of the museum's expansion project.
In 2017, the first of the museum's new campus buildings opened, the Eversole Collections Building at 300 W. Poplar. The museum also planted a heritage apple orchard for outdoor programming. In January 2018, the museum closed for renovations of its Hawkins House location at 322 South Second Street and to focus on the interior exhibit construction at its new location in the Hailey Building at 313 South Second Street. On December 13, 2018, the Rogers Historical Museum reopened to the public and celebrated the grand opening of its newest location.
The museum campus features five permanent galleries, a hands-on children’s gallery, and two additional galleries for short-term or traveling exhibitions. Guided tours of the 1895 Hawkins House are available, as are the “First Street” and “Grandma’s Attic” exhibitions. The museum provides a wide variety of in-house and outreach educational programs for children and adults, and a research library is available for public use. The museum also places exhibits in the community and has a dozen “Discovery Boxes” available for loan to schools, scout troops, or home-school families.
For additional information:
Muse, Ruth. “A Short History and Armchair Tour of the Rogers Historical Museum.” Benton County Pioneer 22 (Winter 1977): 12–15.
Rogers Historical Museum. http://www.rogershistoricalmuseum.org/ (accessed February 25, 2019).
Gaye K. Bland
Rogers Historical Museum
Last Updated 2/25/2019
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