History of Conway County can be found at museum

Carol Rolf Originally Published August 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 16, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.
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Carol Rolf/Contributing Photographer

Dorothy and Carl Imhauser stand in front of the Morrilton Depot Museum and Genealogy Research Library. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and by special appointment.

MORRILTON — The Morrilton Depot Museum and Genealogy Research Library is dedicated to the history of Conway County.

“That pretty well sizes it up,” said Carl Imhauser, president of the Conway County Historical Preservation Association, which owns the building and operates it as a museum, staffing it with volunteers. Volunteer members of the Conway County Genealogy Society staff the research library and help with the museum.

Imhauser said the museum is 35 years old. The Missouri-Pacific Railroad closed the passenger

depot in 1954, and sometime after that, the preservation association purchased the building in order to preserve it.

“The railroad caused Morrilton to be formed,” Imhauser said. Union Pacific Railroad, which merged with Missouri Pacific in the early 1990s, continues to operate the rail line through Morrilton. “Union Pacific has been a big help to preserve this building. I can’t thank them enough. They have helped us monetarily.”

“We have many things that have been donated, and continue to be donated,” said Carl’s wife, Dorothy Imhauser, a member of the Conway County Historical Preservation Association Board of

Directors and a volunteer tour guide, especially for groups of schoolchildren. “Our job now is to get everything documented and put into the computer so that we might become an accredited museum.”

Among the earliest exhibits at the museum are Native American artifacts found in Conway County.

There is also an exhibit about Lewisburg, a town on the Arkansas River just a few miles from Morrilton. Lewisburg was founded as a trading post and steamboat landing in 1825. It was the site of a skirmish during the Civil War and suffered its final demise when the railroad bypassed the town in 1875 and built its train stop in Morrilton.

Lewisburg was not only a river port but also a stagecoach stop between Pottsville and Fort Smith, and a part of the Indian removal along the Trail of Tears.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is a copy of the painting The City of Lewisburg, done in 1852 by Susan Gordon, whose family lived in the area. Another highlight is an Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission plaque featuring two Conway County soldiers — Pvt. James N. Garvin, 31st Arkansas Infantry Co. G, and Sgt. James W. Carter, 31st Arkansas Infantry Co. C — who received the Southern Cross of Honor medal.

Carl said Morrilton was incorporated in 1884 and continued to thrive. In those early days, there were many businesses, including several hotels and an opera house. Morrilton was also the site of two colleges — Harding College was established there in 1924 on the site of the current Southern Christian Home but moved two years later to Searcy, and the Morrilton Male and Female College was built in 1890 but served as a college for only a few years before the building became part of the South Conway County School District.

High school class pictures can be seen on several walls of what was the ticket office of the depot.

“The oldest is 1908,” said Carl, noting that former students often come in to view the photographs.

There is also a space dedicated to the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who moved to Petit Jean Mountain in 1953 and served as governor from 1967 to 1971.

“We want to enlarge this exhibit to include his son, Winthrop Paul,” Carl said.

Outside in the garden, there is a large statue of the younger Rockefeller, who served as lieutenant governor of the state from November 1996 until his death in July 2006. He also maintained a home on Petit Jean Mountain.

Work continues at the museum to expand space for more exhibits and to create a larger space for the genealogy research library.

“We have received some grant money that will help with the renovations, but I do a lot of the work myself,” said Carl, who is retired as superintendent of maintenance at Little Rock Catholic High School. The museum also accepts donations.

The Morrilton Depot Museum and Genealogy Research Library is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and by appointment.

For more information, call (501) 354-4347 or email morriltondepotmuseum@yahoo.com.

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