Fort Smith, Arkansas is nestled on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border in the northwestern part of the state. Fort Smith covers fifty three acres of Oklahoma and has a population of 81,000 residents. Fort Smith is located in "Tornado Ally", an area of the US known for its prevalence of tornadic activity.
Fort Smith was established in 1817 as a military outpost to keep the peace between migrating Indian tribes. Throughout the next several decades, Fort Smith would maintain its original function of policing the Native Americans in the area until the Civil War began in the 1860s. Union troops ousted Confederate troops from Fort Smith in 1863 and retained power of the city until the end of the Civil War. Afterwards, Fort Smith became a haven for orphans and runaway slaves. Federal troops abandoned the post in 1871. Today, Fort Smith is a major commercial hub in the state. Several major corporations have processing operations located in Fort Smith. Some of these include Gerber, Planters Peanuts, and the Whirlpool Corporation.
Fort Smith still holds on to its traditional roots and the more popular attractions in the city reflect that. Oddly enough, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau is located in a former brothel named Miss Laura’s Social Club. This particular former brothel is the only one that appears on the National Register of Historic Places. The Fort Smith Museum of History is a fun and educational attraction that features many exhibits on Fort Smith’s colorful history. Included in the museum is an old fashioned style 1920s drugstore where visitors can order ice cream and floats from an authentic soda fountain. Located nearby is the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The sprawling site is home to some of the original outpost buildings constructed at the fort as well as other buildings pertinent to the city’s history. The Fort Smith National Historic Site was also a major stop on the Native Americans’ ill-fated Trail of Tears.
The Jane Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center is one of a kind in the country. The center is comprised of one hundred seventy acres that were formerly part of Fort Chaffe. The center is home to a large variety of native wildlife and is also the winter nesting grounds of many species of birds. The center hosts nature related activities every day of the week, including animal feedings, story times, and children’s craft activities. Other special events at the center are owl watching after sunset and archery demonstrations. Four miles of walking trails surround a scenic lake located on the property of the center.
Fort Smith is home to many annual attractions as well. The Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Fest is one of the largest annual events in the Oklahoma and Arkansas region. The Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair is one of the largest fairs in the country and attracts thousands of visitors during its annual ten day run. The Old Fort Days Rodeo and the Fort Smith Airshow are two other popular annual events in the city.