For a typical Found in the Archives article, we comb through our archives to show you interesting photos in the order they were donated. However, the renovation process has begun here at the museum, and all of our archives are currently packed and ready to be moved to our temporary offices. So this week, instead of our usual routine, we present “A Brief History of the Siloam Springs Museum.” Next week, we will return to bringing you fresh discoveries from our photo archives.
In the late 1960’s, some citizens of Siloam Springs noticed that as more old buildings changed hands, old pieces of furniture, signs, photos, and documents were being thrown out into burn piles to be permanently destroyed. These concerned citizens saw much of this “junk” as historic artifacts and were disturbed by the notion that they should be discarded. To remedy this situation, they made the decision to open a museum to preserve these old pieces for generations to come. The Siloam Springs Museum Society was incorporated in 1969 for this purpose.
After incorporation, it would be another two years before the museum obtained a physical space and enough items to display. In 1971, the museum opened as a small exhibit in the Kansas City Southern (KCS) passenger depot, just south of the intersection of the railroad tracks and Jefferson Street. KCS stopped providing passenger service to Siloam Springs in 1968, leaving the passenger waiting area vacant. The railroad still used the office space in the building for their freight services, but the Siloam Springs Museum was able to use the old passenger waiting area as an exhibit space.
The museum quickly outgrew this small space and started looking for another building. It was then that the museum moved into its current building at 112 N. Maxwell St. The building was owned by Siloam’s Church of Christ, which had moved to another location. In 1972, the City of Siloam Springs bought the building using a voluntary tax, and the Siloam Springs Museum occupied the space later that year.
In the museum’s first few years, it was entirely run by volunteers and had loose guidelines for what would be accepted into the collection. It displayed anything from the historical artifacts seen in the museum today to examples of natural phenomena, such as a branch growing through a section of fence or sets of antlers acquired on hunting trips.
In 1981, the museum qualified for a grant which allowed it to hire its first paid Director of Collections, Wendy Marshall. Marshall was a Museum Studies student at the University of Arkansas at the time. Upon joining the museum, she employed stricter accessioning guidelines, improved record keeping practices, and lent more organization to displays. She was followed by Gaye Bland in 1984 and Don Warden in 1991. Don still serves as the museum’s Director of Collections and Research.
In the last two decades, the museum has sought to expand its community involvement and its educational programs through the organization of events and field trips. Last year, the museum organized several large community events, hosted many field trips, participated in Kids’ Days, partnered with Ability Tree for an art show, and more! For a full list of the museum’s events, visit the Events page on this website.
In December 2017, the City of Siloam Springs approved $371,000 for the renovation of the museum’s current space at 112 N. Maxwell Street. These funds were provided through the sale of Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital. The renovation process has begun, and it promises to open an exciting chapter for the Siloam Springs Museum.
While the museum is closed in the coming months, we will continue to focus heavily on community involvement and planning our 50th anniversary activities for 2019. We hope to see you at our events this summer!
Written by Chuck McClary using information from Don Warden.
Photos provided by the Siloam Springs Museum and its archives.