Welcome to the Fort Smith Trolley Museum

Trolley Schedule

Saturday: 10AM - 5PM

Sunday: 1PM - 5PM

Museum Schedule

Saturday: 10AM - 5PM

 

For Streetcar History Click Here

For Trolley Cats Click Here

For Original Streetcar Routes Click Here

 

History of the Trolley Museum

 

In 1979, the Fort Smith Historical Society published an article on the history of local public railway transportation for its bi-annual offering, "The Journal." Amelia Martin, co-editor of "The Journal" from its inception in 1977 until her death in 2004, asked her husband to research and write the article.

Dr. Art Bradley Martin, Sr., a physician and community leader, soon found himself drawn into the world of trolleys, trains, and buses. As it turned out, a local resident named Charles Winters had already done the research that the Historical Society wanted. The Society published his entire manuscript in "The Journal" Vol. 3, Number 2, September 1979, which was later republished in book form.  A copy of this manuscript is availabe in our gift shop.

Just before publication, a relative of Mr. Winters called to inform him of an advertisement in an antique journal. A Fort Smith streetcar - the Fort Smith Light & Traction #224 - was still in existence and up for sale. This led to the formation of a Streetcar Committee, headed by Dr. Martin  and working through the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation (the group which was responsible for restoring and maintaining the W.H.H. Clayton House), which eventually broke off to become a new non-profit organization - the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association - and arranged to purchase the old streetcar.

Publicity following this acquisition led to the discovery of two other car bodies located in Mulberry, Arkansas. These were the Fort Smith Light & Traction #205 and #221. The better of the two (#205) was given to the Association by the family of Paul Alexander, who had purchased the bodies after Fort Smith's trolley service was discontinued on November 15, 1933.

On Wednesday, June 21, 1979, after 46 years of being inoperable, car #205 traveled once more through the streets of Fort Smith, proudly displaying its "Car Barn" destination sign, on its way to the original Fort Smith Light & Traction Car Barn, where it had spent so many nights in the past. Though aged and faded by time, and having to be hauled "piggy-back" on a flatbed truck, it was part of a dream for members of the committee and the people of Fort Smith. Car #224 arrived soon after, having travelled all the way from Shreveport, Louisiana.

For five years, the association did restoration work on the cars in a series of borrowed buildings. The body of car #205 was restored first and - lacking the required trucks and motors - mounted on rubber-tired wheels. For many years, it was displayed in parades and used to sell ice cream at the annual Riverfest, raising both funds and awareness.

Then in 1985, the Association erected a car barn at 100 South Fourth Street, the former site of the Midland Valley Railroad yard. This became the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. The most notable architectural feature of the building is its three sets of towering front doors, which were taken from the old Frisco roundhouse before it was torn down.

Later, with the help of local banks, the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association purchased an additional 6,000 square foot building at 65 South Third Street for the storage of oversized equipment, rubber-tired vehicles and streetcars awaiting restoration.

The car barn is equipped with a mechanic's pit and many of the tools necessary for restoration work. Since it is a "working museum," visitors have the opportunity to see this work in progress. Large display cases along one wall hold railroad and streetcar memorabilia.
 
In 1984, a dilapidated Kansas City Birney car, #1545, had become available and was acquired for the wheels, motors and controls. Thanks to local corporate support, private gifts from over 500 people in 20 states, knowledge and encouragement from rail museums across the country, and thousands of volunteer hours, car #224 started and ran under its own power on Christmas Day of 1990, using the museum's power supply.

After completion of the necessary overhead wire system to carry the 600-volt DC current, car #224 officially began operating on May 19, 1991. The route ran 1,200 feet from the Fort Smith Trolley Museum to the Fort Smith Museum of History and back again on abandoned Frisco Freight Systems spur track.

More track was added in 1993, running from the museum to the entrance of Fort Smith National Cemetery. In 1997, the track was extended about a block in the other direction.  The Museum of History stop was now extended next to Bricktown Brewery off Garrison Avenue.  Since then, with the help of the City of Fort Smith, it has grown even further, reaching down Garrison Avenue to the front of Ross Pendergraft Park, which is northeast of the Fort Smith National Historic Site at the base of the Garrison Avenue Bridge.

The Fort Smith Trolley Museum now has 4 of the original 58 Fort Smith streetcars - Fort Smith Light & Power #10 and Fort Smith Light & Traction #'s 205, 221 and of course, the fully restored #224. A 1904 Hot Springs Street Railway double-truck car (#50), which is similar to cars that operated in Fort Smith, is currently being restored. Restoration is also in progress on #205 and on an open car, Cooperative de Transportes Urbanos y Sub-Urbanos #6 from Vera Cruz, New Mexico, which is similar to cars that operated in Fort Smith.

In addition to the trolleys, the Museum is home to a rail collection. In 2004, the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair Board donated a Frisco steam engine and tender (#4003) which had been on display at Kay Rodgers Park & Fairground (the old-time "Electric Park") since 1954. Prior to this, three cabooses, a former military power car and dining car, and three boxcars were donated to the museum by the Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Railroad. The museum also has three internal combustion locomotives, railway speeders, and a trackmobile.

Rubber-tired vehicles include a 1939 Little Rock bus and three former Fort Smith buses, including a bus that was used in the filming of the movies “Biloxi Blues” and "Tuskegee Airmen" at Fort Chaffee. A 1932 American leFrance Fort Smith fire truck and a Ford Model TT truck that was used to peddle groceries in Fort Smith are also part of our the collection.

When the old Midland Valley passenger station and freight house were torn down, the museum received a 28'x52' S-lock metal building and attached it to the west side of the car barn. It was christened the Rudy Garza Machine Shop in honor of an especially dedicated volunteer who had spent many years in service to the Museum.

In 2005, the city of Fort Smith helped lengthen southern end of the trolley route just a bit more, traversing the street from the front entrance of the Fort Smith National Cemetery to the rear of the Fort Smith Convention Center, and adding a special automated crossing signal for the trolley.

Future plans call for extensions to both ends of the trolley track. From Ross Pendergraft Park, it will continue west, turn north under the Garrison Avenue Bridge, and stop at Miss Laura's Visitors Center near the Arkansas River. On the other end, it will make stops at the Fort Smith Convention Center  and The Executive Hotel at City Center on South 7th Street, and The Town Club on Garrison Avenue, for a total length of 1.5 miles of track. Perhaps sometime in the future, there will be enough funding to connect the two ends of the track, making possible a trolley tour of the Belle Grove Historic District, including the W.H.H. Clayton House.

Because of the untold efforts of this community, part of the history of Fort Smith, and of a thousand other cities that relied on trolley transportation before being replaced by the automobile, is being preserved. Many other cities have regretted the loss of their streetcars and are attempting to bring back public street-rail transportation in their downtown areas.

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