We headed out toward Oklahoma, but first we had some small town business to finish in Arkansas. First stop Russellville (pop. approx. 28,000) How could we not stop here?
We met some local folks who were in the middle of preparing for a big fundraiser for the United Way. And weren’t we lucky that the main attraction happened to be a BBQ! Clearly, community spirit is alive and well in this small town.
Now this is a serious smoker!
These little porkers on the sidewalk were the ones that got away.
Just down the road from Russellville is the historic town of Ft. Smith, nicknamed Hell on the Border. Founded in 1817 as a frontier military post, Ft. Smith later become known for its role in the settling of the “Wild West”.
This old Ft. Smith diner, which is a restored Pullman railcar, is overshadowed by a mural that gives a nod to the displaced Native Americans who had settled here. Notice the tear from her eye.
A wild, bustling town full of brothels, saloons and outlaws, the infamous Judge Isaac Parker, known as the Hanging Judge, was brought in to establish some law and order. His courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, had the dubious honor of being the site where “more men were put to death in the U.S. than in any other place in American history.”
Judge Parker’s courthouse
Main Street, Ft. Smith
One business that survived the Hanging Judge’s “clean up”, possibly because of it’s powerful and politically connected clientele, was Miss Laura’s Social Club, a very successful and busy brothel with 9 bedrooms, one for each of the “girls”. Ironically, this house of ill-repute is now a very unique visitors center welcoming wayward travelers with open arms! It is the only former bordello on the National Register of Historic Places and has been fully restored to its original grandeur. According to our tour guide, there are still some people in Ft Smith who do not want this historical reminder left standing.
No, Rorie was not here for a job interview!
The grand entryway
Miss Laura’s private “working” quarters.
After a good week, Miss Laura would celebrate by filling the bathtub at the end of the upstairs hall with ice and champagne for both the girls and their clients.
Here is a picture of some of Miss Laura’s “girls” who lived and worked at the house.
I like to mix and match patterns with the best of them but this is a little over the top. I was stunned, Bart was, shall we say, intrigued.
We loved the boisterous history of this house and were fascinated by the stories our knowledgeable tour guide shared with us. A must see destination! Having had our visual fill of Miss Laura’s and Ft. Smith, we headed out on the search for some good southern fare to fill our bellies. And, man did we find it in Van Buren, AR (pop. 21,305).
We asked two local woman sitting in rocking chairs on the sidewalk here what the best place to eat was and they were unanimous – Olivers. So, off we went. As we opened the door this is the sight that greeted us. Bart had to hold Rorie back (by the way, did you notice the server with the pie was shy?).
We got seated and picked our vittles. Rorie ordered catfish with tarter sauce, hush puppies, cole slaw and baked beans. The Athletic Dept t-shirt she’s wearing explains why she can eat a “light” lunch like this.
Bart chose rabbit food.
The architecture in Van Buren was outstanding, well-preserved and just what we love to see.
Experiencing Van Buren was a wonderful way to end our Discover Small Town America Tour of Arkansas. Time to continue west and roll on down the road to Oklahoma.