History comes alive at Perry County Historical Museum

Carol Rolf Contributing Writer Published September 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Karen Brazil, left, and Nancy Tindell volunteer at the Perry County Historical Museum in Perryville. The museum contains a variety of historical artifacts, including these photos, on the wall, and old toys, in the display case. The museum also has a copy of Perry County, Arkansas: Its Land and People, which tells the history of the county.

— History abounds in the Perry County Historical Museum.

Advertised as “a place where the past lives on,” the museum is housed in a building that has historical significance itself. Known locally as the American Legion “hut,” the building at 408 Main St. in Perryville was constructed in 1935 for less than $5,000.

Karen Brazil, acting president and treasurer of the historical museum’s board of directors, said the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal program to provide jobs for the poor and unemployed nationwide, contributed $2,500 to pay for local workers. All building materials came from Perry County. One of the building’s more unique aspects is the lighting fixture made from an airplane engine. Other unusual features include hand-hewn walnut doors and hand-forged hardware made from Model T Ford axles.

The Arkansas Chapter of the American Legion deeded the building to the Perry County Historical Museum in 2005. The museum remains the central location for the chapter’s documents and collectibles, tracing military service dating back to World War I.

Brazil said the museum offers exhibits and displays of historical significance to Perry County, which was created by the Arkansas Legislature on Dec. 18, 1840. Perry County was named in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a hero of the Erie Canal Battle during the War of 1812.

Among items currently on display are a toy collection belonging to Beverly Doremus of Perryville and a collection of medical instruments and other items belonging to Dr. Benjamin Hyatt who was a general practitioner in Perryville for 44 years.

“We rotate our exhibits,” Brazil said. “We feature things from all over the county.”

Other collections at the museum include Perry County marriage records from 1882 to 2006, historical documents and memorabilia, photographs and prints, equipment, tools and household items, vintage clothing and furnishings, Indian artifacts and Civil War relics.

“We want to enhance our veterans display,” Brazil said, adding that information about Perry County veterans and Civil War soldiers from Perry County are listed on the museum’s website, www.perrycountyhistoricalmuseum.org.

As in the past, the museum will be open on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. “There will be activities at the courthouse in the morning and then the museum will be open until mid-afternoon,” Brazil said.

The museum is now open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of every month. It is also open on Friday and Saturday during Fourche River Days, and a Christmas open house “is usually the first Saturday in December,” Brazil said.

Board members annually prepare lunch for members of the Perry County Area Chamber of Commerce in October.

Nancy Tindell, another member of the board of directors, said a wrought-iron fence was recently put around the building “with the help of an Operation Roundup grant offered through First Electric Cooperative in Perryville.

“It really helps set off the building,” Tindell said.

Tindell said they have also done some landscaping on the museum grounds and that new outdoor lighting allows them to display the American flag at night.

Brazil said the museum is always looking for new items, especially old photographs. One wall of photographs features several hotels that were in Bigelow, which was once called Esau. Among the hotels featured are the Fourche Lumber Hotel and the Smitherman Hotel.

“Bigelow once had a population estimated at 10,000 people in 1910,” Brazil said, reading from the book Perry County, Arkansas: Its Land and People, published in 2004. “At one time, it was said to be the largest town between Fort Smith and Bigelow. Its name was changed from Esau to Bigelow in 1911 when N.P. Bigelow, owner of the Fourche River Mill, was elected mayor and gained permission from the state’s General Assembly to change the name to Bigelow.”

Membership in the Perry County Historical Society is available at several levels. Contributions and gifts to the museum are always welcome.

For more information on the museum, call Karen Brazil at (501) 889-2855 or (501) 889-8060 or Nancy Tindell at (501) 889-5580 or (501) 551-9008.

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