story and photos by Brittany Ransom
The Clayton House took guests on a trip down memory lane on Sunday (Jan. 26) afternoon with its first "Clayton Conversations" program of the new year. Focusing on the city's rich history and frontier roots, "The Big Picture: Fort Smith History in Pictures," included images of the area spanning nearly 200 years.
The afternoon kicked-off with refreshments and coffee in the home's dining room, and musical entertainment. Guests then made their way to the community room for the formal program.
Featured speaker for the January installment of Clayton Conversations was author and UAFS professor, Dr. Kevin Jones. Jones has spent the last few years researching the area and collecting photos, postcards and other images of Fort Smith from the last two centuries. He has used his findings to write two books including "Fort Smith: Postcard History Series," and his most recent work, "Fort Smith: Images of America."
Since beginning his research, Jones has amassed more than 3,000 photos and postcards from the Fort Smith region, including pictures of prominent citizens, historic buildings, and pictures of soldiers from various wars.
"I had to comb through my collection and narrow it down to around 300 pictures to include in my new book," said Jones. "It was quite the task deciding which ones to use."
Jones incorporated a select number of photographs from his extensive collection into a slideshow presentation for the Clayton House program. With each slide, Jones provided background information about the individuals and buildings pictured, as well as the time period in which the photo was taken.
Photos ranged in age and content, with some dating back to the mid-1800s. A vast number of pictures included historic structures on Garrison Avenue, such as the Grand Opera House, Hotel Main, and the former Goldman Hotel. Also included were snapshots of local sports teams from the past, military photographs, Judge Parker and U.S. Marshal memorabilia, and classic postcards marketing Fort Smith and its many unique destinations.
The interactive presentation included much feedback from the audience, with several guests chiming in to share their own stories about the photos. Many explained their connection to particular individuals pictured in the slides and talked about the history of buildings of the city's past.
A Missouri native, Smith considers himself a transplant, but has become a true expert of local history.
"My books help tell the story of this wonderful area which I have fallen in love with," said Smith. "I learn something new every time I speak somewhere."
Following his presentation, Jones opened the floor up for questions and comments. Audience members were also given the chance to visit with Jones and to purchase autographed copies of his books.
The Clayton House hosts its “Conversations” series on the fourth Sunday afternoon of every other month. Citizen speakers are invited to share the history of a particular aspect of the Fort Smith region’s community life. The organization will also host afternoon themed-teas during the alternating months, with the first scheduled for Feb. 8. The event's theme will be "Valentine" and will include decadent desserts, Victorian poetry, and classical music. Reservations are available online or by calling 783-3000.