story and photos by Brittany Ransom
The Clayton House's traditional silver tea sets and lace tablecloths were nowhere to be found on Saturday (August 9) evening, as the historic home in Fort Smith hosted a real guys night, "Sippin' on Sixth Street-Judge Clayton's Southern Soiree."
Celebrating guns and good whiskey, the event paid homage to the gatherings of Judge Clayton's day and offered visitors a glimpse into the social scene of the late 1800s.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by William and Florence Clayton, dressed in authentic 1880s attire. Other key figures from the time could also be found at the party, including Judge and Mrs. Isaac Parker and the legendary Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves.
Visitors mingled throughout the Victorian-era structure, making their way to the dining room for delicious, plated hors d'oeuvres, and out to the back porch for a cocktail.
A bourbon tasting station was set up just off of the servants quarters, giving guests the opportunity to sample a variety of whiskeys from local distributors. Firearms for the raffle and live auction were also on display, for attendees to browse before the bidding began.
Ten guns, ranging in style and caliber, were included in the live auction. Guests gathered on the back porch to bid on weapons that included a Colt assault rifle, a Glock handgun, and a Smith & Wesson revolver. A winner was also drawn for the door prize, a Henry "Big Boy" Lever Action .357, 44 magnum, 45 Long Colt plinking rifle.
Chances were sold for $5 to win one of three guns in the firearms raffle. Up for grabs were a Ruger 10-22 .22LR Rifle, a Henry lever action .22LR Rifle, and a Ruger 2245 5 ½” Bulled Barrel Pistol.
In addition to the firearms prizes, guests could purchase $20 Bourbon Pull tickets . Dozens of whiskey, scotch and bourbon varieties were included in the pull, which guaranteed each participant a bottle to take home and one lucky winner a grand prize bottle of premier bourbon.
The first event of its kind for the organization, the idea for Sippin' came about during a Clayton House Board meeting.
"One of our members said, 'Julie, you sure have a lot of teas. … What about the guys?’" said Julie Moncrief, Executive Director of The Clayton House. "The next thing I knew the men had met, designed it, and given the event its name."
Tickets for Sippin' were $50. Proceeds from the event benefit the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation, which supports the preservation and authentic restoration of the Clayton House. Organizers hoped to raise $12,000 or more from the tasting.
“Our regional citizens have done a great job maintaining the award-winning restoration of the Clayton House now since 1977," said Moncrief. "Historic preservation takes work and money, and so we appreciate everyone who supports our fundraisers and who become members of the non-profit Fort Smith Heritage Foundation. The circa 1882 Clayton House is the foundation’s one project. When it was saved from the wrecking ball in 1969, the foundation led its authentic restoration back to its 1882 appearance."
A popular historic house museum for heritage tourists from across the country, the Clayton House is listed in the National Geographic Guide to America’s Great Houses. Travelers step through the doors nearly each week to tour the structure and learn about its historical significance in the region.
Moncrief and the Board plan to make Sippin' a yearly soiree, adding it to a calendar packed with traditional Florence Clayton-style ladies events hosted each year.
“We have been really happy with the great reception this event idea has received," said Moncrief. "We will view its results and most likely want to carry this on as an annual event. It will always be followed by our Christmas season opener, the Gaslight Gala, and the Clayton Family Christmas Open House, so Florence Clayton will always have chances to pull out her beautiful silver tea sets after the Sippin’ event is over."