History Commission Celebrating Centennial Year
By Kerry Kraus,
Arkansas Department of Parks and
On April 27,
2005, the Arkansas History Commission turned 100 years old. Also
known as the State Archives, the commission, which is located in
Little Rock, is charged with collecting and preserving source materials
that comprise the history of Arkansas.
Presentation Ceremony was held in the Old Supreme Court Chamber,
followed by a reception in the State Capitol Rotunda at 5 p.m. The
ceremony featured special guest speakers discussing the history
of the agency along with highlights from the Arkansas History Commission's
huge collection. Those attending were able to view the exhibit "A
Century of Preservation: The Arkansas History Commission at 100"
in the Capitol Rotunda.
John L. Ferguson was honored for his 45 years of service as the
State Historian. Among the speakers were:
- Dr. John
L. Ferguson, state historian
W. Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks
- Dr. C. Fred
Williams, professor of history at the University of Arkansas at
- Dr. Calvin
Smith, Presidential Distinguished Professor of the Heritage Studies
Ph.D. Program at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro
- Wensil Clark,
a member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society and many other historical
- Doyle Webb,
chief of staff for the lieutenant governor and a former Arkansas
Huckabee, Lieutenant Governor Win Rockefeller, Secretary of State
Charlie Daniels and other dignitaries were invited to take part
in the celebration.
may visit state archives
A treat is in store for those who have never visited the archives,
located on the second floor of the Multi-Agency Complex building
on the State Capitol Mall. The areas open to the public represent
a microcosm of both American and Arkansas timelines. The oldest
collection owned by the agency includes French Louisiana records
that cover the time frame 1680 to 1800.
on file also include "Matrimonios De Blanco" which loosely
translated is "White Marriages." These papers record the
early unions that took place at "Poste de Arkansea" from
1791 to 1840. These files, along with U.S. Census, county, church
and military records, are mostly accessible on microfilm.
for the history buff
A couple of Arkansas gems on view in the offices that are sure to
thrill the history buff include Edward P. Washbourne's original
Arkansas Traveller painting, and the original 1912 Arkansas flag
design submission by Willie Kavanaugh Hocker of the Altheimer community.
An interesting note pointed out by Archival Manager Russell Baker
is that the original flag did not include the state's name. A mock-up
of the winning entry to which Arkansas has been added hangs below
the original. Another popular exhibit is one of authentic Civil
War currency, which is available for viewing by appointment.
well-known personages that had an impact on the state, such as Henri
de Tonti, plus famous Arkansans like Albert Pike, line the walls.
A rotating exhibit of artifacts owned by the Commission can be viewed
just outside the office's main entrance.
of the Arkansas History Commission
Act 215 of 1905, which was enacted on April 27, established the
Arkansas History Commission, making it one of the oldest state agencies.
When originally formed as a state board, the office was to identify
and collect historic resources that were related to the state and
to publish historical journals. Dr. John Hugh Reynolds, a University
of Arkansas history professor and later the president of Hendrix
College in Conway (1913-1945), provided guidance to the board during
its early years. He was responsible for initiating the collection
and identification of historical resources related to Arkansas.
current mission is to keep and care for the official archives of
the state, collecting materials which impact the history of Arkansas
from the earliest times, copy official records and other historical
data, and encourage historical research.
Dallas T. Herndon was the first director of the agency in 1911.
Herndon stated that year, "The Commission exists to gather
the records of all (of Arkansas's) local and state activities to
the public." The first permanent home of the agency was in
1912 in the then-new State Capitol Building. As part of the commission,
Herndon established the State Historical Museum, which included
a portrait gallery of famous Arkansans, a World War Museum with
many World War I artifacts, and exhibits showcasing Arkansas history
from Territorial days to the modern era. During his tenure, Herndon
wrote and edited many books on Arkansas history, the best known
of which is his 1922 Centennial History of Arkansas.
years brought changes to the Commission, many of which had a negative
impact on its mission. In 1935, expansion of state government forced
the office into smaller quarters, with most of its irreplaceable
collections having to be stored in the dark and clammy State Capitol
basement. The museum was moved as well, and for the next 15 years,
the agency and its small staff struggled to stay afloat. Restoration
of the original state capitol building (now the Old State House
Museum) in 1951 provided the commission with a new, expansive home.
in a new home
In 1953 Ted R. Worley became the new director of the history commission
and proceeded to initiate much needed improvements during his seven-year
term. Archival storage and a microfilming program which allowed
fragile and rare documents to be recorded for prosperity were two
major accomplishments. These changes enabled the archives to be
reopened for public visitation after many years of inaccessibility,
allowing for historical and genealogical research. Bad health caused
Worley to resign in 1960 when he was replaced by Dr. John L. Ferguson.
continued Worley's vision by expanding the collection of books,
pamphlets, microfilm and manuscripts. One of the major acquisitions
was a large microfilm collection of records and source materials
relating to the Civil War obtained from the National Archives. In
addition, Ferguson began expanding the archives' holdings of U.S.
Census records and proceeded to increase the in-house microfilming
arrival and his involvement in improving the commission's collections
coincided with an unprecedented increase in interest in Arkansas
history and genealogy. A total of 552 patrons used the department's
research facilities in 1961. Within two years the total more than
doubled to approximately 1,400. By 1966, usage was up to 2,000 and
by the middle 70s, the number of researchers had risen to over 5,000
annually. New facilities were authorized in 1974 by the Arkansas
General Assembly, allowing Ferguson to work alongside the National
Archives to customize the design to fit the archives' specific needs.
In 1979 the offices were opened in the Multi-Agency Complex on the
More changes were on the horizon for the agency. It formed the first
state-run historic preservation program in 1969. In 1971 it became
a division of the Department of Parks and Tourism with Dr. Ferguson
becoming the first director. At that time the division included
the history commission, the Old State House Museum, the Arkansas
Territorial Restoration and the Historic Preservation program. Results
of state government reorganization left the archives with Parks
and Tourism while the other agencies became a part of the new Department
of Natural and Cultural Heritage in 1975. Today that agency is known
as the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
continued to grow and evolve under Dr. Ferguson's tutelage, including
playing an integral part in the 1976 American Bicentennial celebration.
Also, the Arkansas Black History Advisory Committee was created
in 1991 to collect black historical memorabilia for the archives,
to encourage Arkansas black history research, and to assist the
Arkansas Department of Education in the development of African-American
materials for use in public schools. The creation of a Web site
(www.ark-ives.com) in 1996 allowed the commission to provide access
to historical resources, including over 12,000 digital images, to
people worldwide. A traveling exhibit program was added in 1997
to provide free displays to museums, libraries, universities and
other cultural and/or historical organizations.
The future is
nothing but bright for the State Archives, according to Baker. "There
will always be the need to preserve our history for generations
to come. And as long as people have a curiosity as to where their
ancestors came from, there will be a need for genealogical research."
The commission will continue to expand their collections, while
serving the public through the research room and outreach programs.
information on the History Commission and its Centennial Celebration,
contact either Russell Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Julienne Crawford (email@example.com).