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Siloam Springs Museum

The Siloam Springs Museum has been preserving and exhibiting the history of Siloam Springs (Benton County) and its vicinity since 1969. Permanent and changing exhibits tell the story of this area that was once an Osage hunting ground and now boasts a diverse industrial base, beautiful parks, three National Register Historic Districts, and John Brown University (JBU).

Citizens concerned that important pieces of local history were being lost met at Siloam Springs City Hall beginning in July 1969 to discuss the establishment of a museum to preserve this history. The Siloam Springs Museum Society was incorporated on November 13, 1969. The society’s nine-member board of directors oversees operation of the museum and owns the collection.

The last run of the Southern Belle passenger train on November 2, 1969, meant that there was now space available in the city’s Kansas City Southern depot. Melvin and Maggie Smith and Ray Henry arranged with the railroad for part of the depot waiting room to become the first home of the new museum. The freight office was still open, and trains rattled by while volunteers built walls, accepted donations, and set up exhibits. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was on June 20, 1971, in time to celebrate the town’s ninety-first anniversary on June 24. Sabra Davis was president, Maggie Smith was vice president, Frances Hurlock was secretary, and Margaret Schoonover was curator. Donated objects soon filled all of the available space, and the search began for a larger home.

The City of Siloam Springs purchased the present museum building (112 North Maxwell) from the local Church of Christ, using money from a one-mill voluntary property tax. The grand opening was on June 24, 1972, and the featured special exhibit was a moon rock. D. Edna Chamberlain volunteered as director/curator during and after the move to the new building, and she started a system of record keeping similar to the accession system now in use.

In 1981, Maggie Smith obtained an Arkansas Museum Services grant that allowed the museum to hire its first professional director, Wendy Marshall. One of her accomplishments was to amend the articles of incorporation toward gaining 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. This was issued after Dr. Gaye Bland became director in 1984.

Also in 1984, Helen “Johnnie” Johnson began volunteering at the museum soon after retiring as a nurse. Bland asked her to identify surgical instruments from Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital and then put her to work on the rest of the collection as registrar. She earned the 1986 Volunteer Award from the Arkansas Museums Association. It took several years to catalogue and index the entire collection while also recording all new donations and helping with exhibits and programs. She retired from the museum in 2008.

Don Warden became director in 1991. When hired, he was the only paid employee, but after several small budget increases the museum has two full-time paid employees, as of 2011.

In the museum’s early years, the entire collection was on exhibit, and the collection included non-local items like seashells and caribou antlers. Today, most of the collection is in storage, which provides material for four or five temporary exhibits every year. Permanent exhibits are focused entirely on local history, including the prehistoric Caddoan mounds south of town; white settlement beginning with Simon Sager and family; establishment of Siloam Springs, Arkansas Conference College, and JBU; modern industries, including Allen Canning Company and Simmons Foods; and much more.

For additional information:
Peterson, Steve. “Celebrating a Piece of History.” The Morning News. November 10, 1999, p. 1C.

Siloam Springs Museum. http://www.siloamspringsmuseum.com (accessed November 12, 2014).

Don Warden
Siloam Springs Museum

Last Updated 11/12/2014

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