• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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  • Road Construction I-540

    Traveling West on I-40? To avoid construction delays, do not take Exit 7 (I-540 S). Stay on I-40 west and take Exit 1 Dora. Stay on Hwy 64D for 6 miles and follow signs to Fort Smith. After crossing over the river, turn right on 4th ST & right on Garland. More »

National Park Service (1961-present)

newspaper photo showing JFK greeting crowd at Fort Smith

President John F. Kennedy greets crowd that gathered at Fort Smith Municipal Airport on October 29, 1961

UPI Telephoto from Southwest American, October 30, 1961

Fort Smith was designated as a unit of the National Park Service on September 13, 1961 by President Kennedy. The next month, JFK passed through Fort Smith and while at the airport received the property deed from Fort Smith's Mayor Bob Brooksher. Upon receiving the deed, President Kennedy said, "I don't know exactly what part of Fort Smith this entitles me to, but I'm sure it's a good part."

A group of local citizens had worked many years to have Belle Point, the site of the first Fort Smith, and the federal courtroom of Judge Parker recognized as a National Historic Site. In the 1950s Public Historical Restoration, Inc. had restored the courtroom, rebuilt the gallows and conducted archeological excavations at Belle Point.

In 1963 a ceremony was held at Judge Parker's historic courtroom, transferring it from Public Historical Restorations, Inc. to the National Park Service. The next year, the Fort Smith National Historic Site was officially dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson.

Did You Know?

Interior of jail cell with box for prisoners to visit with their lawyers

The conditions at the federal jail at Fort Smith were so horrible that it received the nickname "Hell on the Border." Up to 50 men were crowded into one large cell with limited ventilation and poor sanitary conditions.