Most communities with a population of 1,500 or so residents couldn’t boast having an award-winning museum, but the Izard County city of Calico Rock is an exception.
The city is home to the award-winning Calico Rock Museum, which is housed in two historic buildings on Main Street. The museum includes exhibits on Native Americans, the Civil War, the White River, the railroad, Jesse James and more. The museum also serves as a Visitors Center and rents space to the Calico Rock Artisans Cooperative.
The town’s population includes the 500 inmates at the North Central Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, some of whom have contributed to the museum building’s renovation through the Regional Maintenance Program of the North Central Unit.
According to the book Calico Rock, A History from 1831 to 1966, the town began about 1844 as a steamboat landing. When the Missouri Pacific Railroad laid tracks along the White River in 1903, Calico Rock became a boom town. The book, published by the museum, won the Arkansas Museums Association 2012 Book of the Year Award.
Gloria Gushue is executive director of the museum.
“In 2007, CORE (the Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts) started looking for a place for a museum,” she said. “In April 2008, the City Council agreed to let CORE set up a museum in the backroom of the 1896 bank building on Main Street. The Chamber of Commerce office was in front.”
At that time, the Calico Rock Museum Foundation was established as a 501(c)3 organization.
“In 2009, Jim Murphy approached the foundation,” Gushue said. “He said the 1903 Rand building next door was for sale, and it would be perfect for a museum. He offered it at the reduced price of $80,000.
“Larger donations have come mostly from local people and those who grew up here,” she said. “We also started a memorial fund where families can ask that donations be sent in memory of a loved one. Our biggest fundraiser has been the memorial bricks. So far, we’ve filled the entryway and part of the sidewalk. ”
First National Bank of Izard County gave the foundation a mortgage. This year, the museum paid off the mortgage.
“To keep the building from being empty during renovations, we started the Calico Rock Artisans Cooperative,” Gushue said. “The co-op opened in July of 2010. Today, our 25 craft booths are on the first floors of both buildings. Artisans offer their handcrafted items, everything from pottery to leather, wood and iron workings, paintings, jewelry and more.”
Wayne Wood is secretary-treasurer of the foundation.
“Since the beginning, I’ve been in control of the remodeling,” Wood said. “The Rand building was in a bad state of disrepair. We fixed the roof leaks, rewired the whole building, put in a new heat pump. The inmates [of the Regional Maintenance Program of the North Central Unit] helped install insulation and cleaned and painted. They put a new railing around the balcony because it was just chicken wire tacked up there, and they cut a doorway through 5 feet of stone to connect the two buildings. ”
Since the Rand building is at a lower level, the inmates built stairs to look like a steamboat landing.
“The inmates have helped us every year,” Wood said. “In 2011, they helped remodel the basement. They built a conference room with a kitchenette and areas for photos of pioneers and our military display.”
The inmates also moved the stairwell to a more convenient location.
“When we tore out the old stairwell,” he said, “we found a note reading ‘March 19, 1903. Cold day. 3 in. snow.’ We preserved that. It’s on one of the main riser boards. In 2012, the City Council ‘sold’ us the bank building for $1. The inmates’ latest project was putting up a corrugated metal ceiling and taking out the bathrooms in that building. The backroom is now an art gallery with local scenes by local artists. This year, the inmates built a ‘catwalk’ to connect the two sides of the balcony.”
Gushue explained how the exhibits are set up.
“We opened the exhibits in the Rand building in January 2011. On the balcony, we have the train depot, notable things that happened in Calico Rock, a schoolroom, the post office and general store, and the Jesse James exhibit,” Gushue said.
“In April we expect to open the river display. There will be a photo mural of the White River. The floor will be painted to look like the river, and special lighting will make it seem like the water is moving. Displays will include a trading post, trapping and fishing, moonshining, mussel and pearl diving, and steamboats with a replica of the Ozark Queen’s wheelhouse,” she said.
On the first floor, visitors will walk through a grass hut as they view the Birth of the Ozarks Native American display of Indian artifacts and information about local tribes and the 1838 Cherokee Trail of Tears.
“All the exhibits are interactive,” Gushue said. “You can touch the objects and do things.”
At 11 a.m. April 12, the museum will hold a dedication ceremony. The public is invited for the unveiling of the museum’s latest improvements and exhibits.
Behind the building is a tiered garden area. Master Gardener Claire Cresto designed it as a project for the local 20/20 Group.
“The inmates built the steps and terraces with the stones they took out between the two buildings,” Cresto said. “I chose plants that are more heat tolerant: crape myrtle, butterfly bushes, coneflowers, azaleas and others. I built a trellis for cypress vine. My husband, Jim, helped me put in the sprinkler system.”
Gushue said the museum’s next project is to turn the coal house, a small stone building behind the bank building, into an early-1900s homestead.
“In the basement, we’re putting together our Hall of Honor for Veterans,” Gushue said. “We have uniforms and other items from the Civil War, World War I, World War II and Vietnam.”
This year the museum started a docent program. Volunteers are being trained to lead tour groups.
“We offer eight different programs, including the Native Americans, the railroad, western expansion and the entire museum,” she said.
The museum has received grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council for some exhibits and events. In 2013, the museum received the Arkansas Museums Association’s Western Expansion Award.
Each year, the museum sponsors three major events: Bootlegger Daze in March, Native American Days in September and Living Windows in December. These events have drawn up to 2,000 visitors. This spring, the museum will present the Mysteries of the Museum dinner and drama program.
For more information, to buy a brick or to donate an item, contact Gushue at (870) 297-6100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the museum at 104 Main St. (Arkansas 5 at the White River). The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, or visit www.calicorockmuseum.com/index.html and www.calicoartist.com.