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The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) in Washington (Hempstead County) began as a local archival collection and is now a branch of the Arkansas State Archives (previous called the Arkansas History Commission). Its purpose is to preserve material relevant to the history of twelve southwestern Arkansas counties: Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Sevier, and Union.
In 1975, the Washington (Arkansas) Bicentennial Celebration Committee began making plans for the town’s participation in the upcoming national festivities. To commemorate the event, the committee members decided to raise money to purchase research books for a local library. Mildred Smith, an educator in Washington, sought the advice of Dr. John L. Ferguson, director of the Arkansas State Archives, on forming a library but was instead encouraged to establish a local archives. With assistance from the newly organized Hempstead County Historical Society, the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, and the Arkansas State Archives, Old Washington Historic State Park (now Historic Washington State Park) reserved two rooms and a fireproof vault in the 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse for the new archives. The archives was dubbed the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) and held its grand opening on March 17–18, 1978.
SARA’s resource materials include thousands of genealogical records, maps, photographs, and newspapers. One of the earliest donations was from James and Mary Dawson of Eastland, Texas, who offered their research on Nicholas Trammel and Trammel’s Trace, an early trail from southwest Arkansas through east Texas to Nacogdoches. The Monroe Collection, papers from a Washington abstract company, contains early courthouse records of Hempstead County from 1819 up to the early twentieth century.
SARA continued to flourish under the wing of the Hempstead County Historical Society. Carrie Long of Washington became the first coordinator. Mary Medearis soon followed as director. Anne Stingley Jackson, former director of Library Services for the Arkansas Department of Education, offered her assistance as the library advisor.
The Hempstead County Historical Society voted to authorize SARA “to launch forth as an independent research center” at its meeting on December 6, 1979. SARA adopted a constitution and by-laws in March 1980. The Friends of SARA formed in 1986 to organize and sponsor events to support SARA. The Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation also provided financial assistance to the archives with donations and grants.
Eventually, the archives outgrew its two rooms in the 1874 courthouse. Historic Washington State Park had purchased the Washington Elementary School building after the consolidation of the elementary schools in 1990. Arkansas State Parks moved the archives into the front of the building and used the back of the building to store the park’s collections. SARA moved to its new home in 1993. The research center expanded into several rooms with office space.
Local historian Lucille Westbrook of Nashville (Howard County) became the interim director in 1991. She remained as a volunteer director until 2003, when the SARA Board of Directors hired Faith Lynch Riley from Wickes (Polk County). During her tenure as director, Riley published three books for the archives and developed a project to locate school sites in southwest Arkansas. She encouraged and assisted the SARA Board of Directors in offering the archives to the Arkansas State Archives as a full-time arm of the state archives. On October 30, 2005, a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurated the Arkansas State Archives’s assumption of SARA’s operations.
SARA currently has a two-person staff. SARA is open from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday but is closed on state and federal holidays.
For additional information:“Archives Opens with Aid of Volunteers and Gifts.” Journal of Hempstead County Historical Society 2.3 (Summer1978): 1.
Compiled News Clippings from Vertical File 0049. Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.
Profile: Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, The First Five Years, 1977–1982. Pamphlet File. Southwest Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.
“Society Authorizes Independence for Archives.” Journal of Hempstead County Historical Society 3.4(Winter 1979):1.
Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives http://www.southwestarchives.com/ (accessed August 26, 2011).
Gail MartinSouthwest Arkansas Regional Archives
Last Updated 3/22/2018
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