U.S. Marshals Museum to open July 1

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 852 views 

After more than 16 years of starts and stops and fundraising struggles, the U.S. Marshals Museum will open July 1. The national museum, located near the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith, could draw as many as 125,000 visitors in the first full year.

Construction of the approximately 53,000-square-feet U.S. Marshals Museum was completed — except for exhibits — in early 2020. In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the national museum. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in September 2015, and museum officials initially hoped to have the facility open by late 2017 but struggles to raise money delayed the opening.

The museum in late 2021 was also hit with a leadership problem when Patrick Weeks was arrested Dec. 21 on two felony charges of aggravated assault with a firearm. Weeks, who was hired as museum president and CEO in June 2014, resigned after the charges were made public. Museum President and CEO Ben Johnson was hired in August 2022.

Once open, the museum will tell the story of the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, which was established by President George Washington.

“To say we’re excited would be a vast understatement,” Museum Board Chair Doug Babb said in a statement. “It’s truly gratifying to see the work of so many different people who have dedicated their time and resources to this effort come to fruition. This will be a jewel for Fort Smith, the state of Arkansas and the country.”

According to the museum, the facility’s exterior features a modified star-shaped design signifying the star badge worn by U.S. Marshals. The interior has five “immersive galleries” that provide information about the role Marshals have played in U.S. history. The galleries are: To Be A Marshal, The Campfire/Stories Under The Stars, Frontier Marshals, A Changing Nation and Modern Marshals.

The interior also includes the Samuel M. Sicard Hall of Honor that recognizes the sacrifice of more than 350 Marshals killed in the line of duty since 1789.

The museum will also house a National Learning Center that combines the museum experience with educational programming focused on the Constitution, the rule of law and civic literacy, according to a museum press release.

“I’m so excited to have the chance to lead this amazing group of people who have worked so diligently to reach this point,” Johnson noted in a statement. “The Museum will inspire Americans across the country – both now and for future generations – to live with the core values of the U.S. Marshals Service; justice, integrity, and service. Now it’s time to welcome the world through our doors.”

Johnson said the museum has 12 full-time employees, with plans to hire 4-5 more full-time staffers. Around 10 other positions will be filled for seasonal full- and part-time work, he said.

According to a 2018 study, the museum could see around 125,000 visitors a year. The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, using information from the study, estimated the museum and related tourist expenditures will have a total annual impact on Sebastian County of $13 million to $22 million.