Gov. Asa Hutchinson had an important question when interviewing Stacy Hurst to become the director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
The state’s deep historical and cultural history was important to the newly elected governor and he wanted his new director to share his vision. What she said worked, and Hurst was appointed in January 2015.
She told members of the Marion Chamber of Commerce on Thursday the department is working on projects across the state, and it will do whatever it takes to preserve the state’s 2,500 or so buildings and structures listed on the National Registry of Historic places.
“We are in the business of protecting Arkansas’ historical and cultural resources,” she said.
One of the pinnacle museums in Arkansas is the Old Statehouse in downtown Little Rock. The statehouse became world famous Dec. 4, 1837 when Arkansas Speaker of the House John Wilson murdered a fellow member in front of his fellow representatives. State Rep. John J. Anthony. Wilson became enraged when he thought Anthony had insulted him. He plunged a Bowie knife into the man’s heart.
It’s the place where Arkansas voted to secede, and three years later it served as the Union capital when confederate forces where driven from the city. In 1947 it became a museum, and has an exhibit of former first ladies of Arkansas formal gowns. It’s the most popular exhibit in the state.
“It’s the most beautiful building in Arkansas,” she said.
The department has about 200 employees and operates four museums. It has a $36 million annual budget. It has eight divisions. The department moved into a new $6.5 million building about a year ago. It will take 15 years to pay off the building and property, but it will relieve a burden for taxpayers, she said. It was paying $400,000 per year in rent, she said.
Something new they began last year is the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. More than 300 nominations were submitted in four categories – locally owned eateries that have been in business for 25 years or longer, people’s choice, proprietor, and best food event.
“People love to talk about food and its very much a part of the cultural of any community,” she said.
One project on the verge of completion in Baxter County is the restoration of the Jacob Wolf House. Wolf was a state assemblyman and in 1829 he was able to get a bill passed establishing his home town of Liberty, now present-day Norfork as the county seat in Izard County. The two-story log structure still exists and is the oldest public building still standing on its original foundation west of the Mississippi River.
DAH hopes to begin an historical marker program next year to denote different historical sites around the state. The department offers grant programs to aid in the preservation of culture and history around the state. She encouraged attendees to contact them for more information.
“Our job is to protect Arkansas,” she said.