Photographer's Note

The interior of the impressive Immaculate Conception Cathedral at the end of Garrison Avenue, a local landmark for well over a century. It's one of the most noticeable landmarks you encounter driving over the bridge over the Arkansas River. This church was founded after the immigration of numerous Irish Catholics in the mid 1800s. The first Irish Catholic in Fort smith was reportedly Michael Manning, who came from New Orleans to work on the construction of the fort in 1840. He began celebrating mass in his own home, but many Catholics followed and so he donated some land for the first church. The first small log church was completed at the corner of Third and North D Streets, with a small burial ground immediately to the north of the Church. The Parish was moved into the old officers' quarters until a new building was constructed in 1867, which served the Parish until 1898 when it was destroyed by a tornado (which seems to have been the fate of many old structures in this area). The name "Immaculate Conception" began to be used shortly after the Civil War but the origin of the name is unclear. After the destruction of the small church, the new one (still in use today) was completed in less than 18 months and was dedicated on June 1, 1899. The principal architect was Rudolph Metzger, and Thomas Long was contracted for the brickwork. The stained glass windows were produced by the Zettler Royal Bavarian Art Institute of Munich, Germany. The church now owns several other buildings and is also associated with Saint Edward's, a large hospital in the east of the city.

This moderately-sized town in America's heartland was founded as a western frontier military post in 1817, and, believe it or not, really WAS located on the frontier of the "wild west" for many years, as Indian Territory lay directly to the west just across the Arkansas River! The settlement was reportedly founded as a military installation to keep the peace between the Osage and emigrating Cherokee, who were being relocated to the neighboring Indian Territory (now comprised of the state of Oklahoma) from the east coast. Land speculator John Rogers later purchased the land and promoted the growth of a new civilian town, but the US government later re-established a military presence at Fort Smith during the Mexican War. Fort Smith is named for General Thomas Adams Smith (1781-1844) who commanded the US Army Rifle Regiment in 1817. It was headquartered near St. Louis, but General Smith had instructed topographical engineer Stephen H. Long to find a site where a fort could be founded on the banks of the Arkansas River. Interestingly, Smith himself never visited the town or the forts that bore his name. Sebastian County was formed in 1851 when it split from Crawford County. The army finally vacated the town in 1863, and federal troops followed shortly in 1871.

Some famous figures associated with it include Judge Isaac Parker and William Henry Harrison Clayton, who was appointed US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by Ulysses S. Grant. Due to a lamentable lack of law enforcement, the town had at one point become "a haven for runaway slaves, orphans, Southern Unionists" and later brothels, saloons and outlaws who ventured into town from an even more lawless area across the river. Isaac Parker served as US District Judge from 1875-1896 and was the strong arm that was needed to keep things running smoothly. He was nicknamed the Hanging Judge because he reportedly hanged 8 people for murder his first term. Over the course of his career, he sentenced 160 people to death and executed 79 of them on the nearby gallows, which can still be seen today. The courthouse is now a National Historic Site where reportedly "more men were put to death by the US Government... than in any other place in American history."

Despite its rather lawless past and colorful history, Fort Smith underwent something of an economic boom during World War I when the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation was established on the east side of the city. It's now Arkansas's second largest city with about 84,000 inhabitants. The population has increased over the past few years, partly because of the founding of the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith (previously WestArk community college), designated as such officially in 2002. The city has a total area of 53 square miles. The town has been struck by three major tornadoes (1898, 1927 and 1996), the last of which caused great damage to the old downtown area, but much of it has since been restored.

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1277] (2193)
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