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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville can fairly be called the crown jewel of Arkansas museums. Little Rock boasts such gems as the Clinton Presidential Center, Arkansas Arts Center, Old State House, Museum of Discovery, Historic Arkansas Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

These major facilities get most of the media attention, and deservedly so. But Arkansas is also blessed with a host of smaller museums well worth a day-trip visit, the more so in winter months when chilly weather could curtail outdoor fun.

Here is a mix of some interesting places. Admission is often free, with donations encouraged. Days and hours of opening vary, so calling ahead is a good idea:

• Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, (870) 739-6041. Vividly told here is what the museum calls "The Forgotten Tragedy," which took about 1,800 lives on April 27, 1865. The disaster happened when the side-wheel steamboat Sultana burned and sank on the Mississippi River while bringing home Union troops freed from Confederate war prisons.

• Lum & Abner Museum, Pine Ridge, (870) 326-4442. In the radio days of the 1930s, Arkansans Chester Lauck and Norris Goff ranked among America's most famous stars of the airwaves. Their fictional Jot 'Em Down Store in the Montgomery County hamlet of Pine Ridge is packed with memorabilia and taped recordings of their homespun comedy.

• Plantation Agriculture Museum, Scott, (501) 961-1409. Rural life before mid-20th-century mechanization vastly altered cotton-farming culture is depicted with an elegiac aura. Visitors can operate a miniature cotton gin and size up a bulky old-style cotton bale. Open nearby are buildings containing a restored gin and a seed warehouse.

• Chaffee Barbershop Museum, Chaffee Crossing, (479) 452-4554. It was a pop-culture moment to remember on March 24, 1958, when Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army and had his duck-tail hair cut short. It happened at Fort Chaffee, where one chair in the old military barbershop holds a cardboard silhouette of the 25-year-old rock star.

• Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, Tyronza, (870) 487-2909. The most unlikely story of a racially integrated labor union in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression is told in personal terms at a museum operated by Arkansas State University. The farmers' union was also well ahead of its time in admitting women. It had a few years of success.

• Mark Martin Museum, Batesville, (870) 793-4461. Blending into the sales and service areas of Mark Martin's auto dealership is a cavalcade of the racing legend's cars. They include the 1989 Stroh's Thunderbird, the No. 5 Kellogg's car and the No. 6 Viagra Coca-Cola 600 win car. An assortment of Martin scrapbooks provides a more personal feel.

• Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum, Piggott, (870) 598-3487. Ernest Hemingway wrote some of A Farewell to Arms in the 1930s while living in northeast Arkansas with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Memorabilia in the property's barn turned into a writer's studio includes his typewriter and hunting trophies that he and Pauline shot in Africa.

• Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, Stuttgart, (870) 673-7001. This 20,000-square-foot site tells the story of Stuttgart's settlement beginning in 1878 by German pioneers. Vintage farm machinery and a mock-up of Stuttgart's Main Street around 1900 are featured, as well as a Water Fowl Wing saluting the Grand Prairie's duck-hunting renown.

• WWII Japanese American Internment Museum, McGehee, (870) 222-3168. Housed in a former rail depot, this museum tells the World War II history of nearby Rohwer and Jerome. At these Delta sites, government internment camps confined 17,000 Japanese-Americans for several years. A heartening note is the resilience of so many internees.

• Delta Cultural Center, Helena, (870) 338-4350. The music of the Arkansas Delta is spotlighted in one of two buildings, where earphones let visitors hear the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Louis Jordan, Johnny Cash and Levon Helm. In the other building, a Civil War exhibit features the Battle of Helena.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
The burning and sinking of a steamboat packed with Union soldiers returning from Confederate prison camps is depicted at Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion. About 1,800 lives were lost.
Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
At Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott, an exhibit shows visitors the importance of mules to cotton farming in the era before mechanization.

Weekend on 01/03/2019

Print Headline: ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: State's museums offer diverse mix of culture, history

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