Overview of Historically Interpreted Sites at Fort Smith


First Fort (1817-1824) - more...

The first Fort Smith was established at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers in 1817 at a place named Belle Point. It was the highest navigable point on the Arkansas River at the time the site was chosen by the U.S. Army. The army abandoned the fort in 1824 and while used intermittently by transient troops, it was never maintained. Its exact location remained unknown until 1963, when archeologists uncovered the foundations visitors can see today.

High Contrast Aerial View of the remains of the First Fort Smith situated at Belle Point.

An aerial view of the foundational remains of the first Fort Smith, founded on Belle Point along the convergence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers



Second Fort (1838-1871) - more...

In 1838 construction of a second fort was begun, this one built at a higher elevation and away from the river. Major buildings included two officer's quarters, a barracks, commissary, and quartermaster storehouse; all enclosed by a stone wall. Today visitors can see the Commissary Storehouse (the oldest building still standing in Fort Smith) and the former military barracks which was converted into the federal courthouse in 1872.

An outline of stones placed at ground level marks the perimeter wall's original location. Locations of other second fort buildings are designated by wayside panels and marked floor plans. Click here for an aerial view showing the design of the Second Fort.

The Commissary Storehouse is the oldest standing structure in Fort Smith.

The Commissary Storehouse is the oldest standing structure in Fort Smith, and has seen as much history as the Fort itself.



Federal Court (1872-1896) - more...

When the military barracks was used as a courthouse, the basement was fashioned into a jail. The conditions in the first jail that the facility housed was nicknamed "Hell on the Border". In 1888 a new jail wing was constructed to remedy the deplorable conditions suffered by prisoners. The federal courthouse, which originally was a 1 1/2 story structure with full porches, was changed to reflect its current appearance in 1890.

A reproduction of the 1886 gallows stands on its original site and is a reminder of the chaotic social conditions that existed in Indian Territory and the Western Frontier during Judge Issac C. Parker's time.

Barracks/Courthouse/Jail/Visitor Center

What is now used as the Fort Smith National Historic Site's Visitor Center began as the enlisted-man military barracks which burned down in 1846.  The structure was rebuilt and continued to house enlisted men until the Army left in 1871.  It was later used as the courthouse for the Western District of Arkansas at which time the basement was converted to service as a jail.


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