The popular Crawford County Chronicles series will continue in May with its second presentation of the year, featuring a talk exploring the history of railroads in the area and its impact on Crawford and Sebastian County.
Charles Girard and Dr. Mike Condren will co-present “Railroad History of Crawford County” once at 1:30 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. May 4 at the Drennen-Scott Historic Site, which is located at 221 N. 3rd St. in Van Buren and is owned by the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith. Space is limited and reservations are required.
The presentation covers the importance of the railroads to Van Buren and Fort Smith through the dependent transportation they provided, offering an alternative to crossing the unpredictable Arkansas River.
“The railroads were important to the development of Van Buren and Fort Smith because of the need for transportation which could be relied upon,” Condren said. “Before the era of the Kerr-McClellan navigation system, the Arkansas River could not be relied upon. In the summer, it was so shallow that boats could not make it to Van Buren on a consistent basis.”
The railroads also dealt with controversy shortly after its inception in the area, which led to the construction of the Frisco Bridge.
“The Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad reached Van Buren in the early 1870s, and the St. Louis San Francisco railroad arrived in the early 1880s,” he said. “It continued around the north side of the Arkansas River to downtown Fort Smith through the Cherokee Nation.
“However, in 1879, the Cherokee Nation took the railroad to federal court and forced them to remove the track back to Van Buren,” he continued. “After that, the railroad again crossed the river to Fort Smith via a ferry until the Frisco Bridge was completed in the mid-1880s.”
Tom Wing, director of the Drennen-Scott Historic Site, said the presentation will be given by two people passionate about the subject matter.
“Chuck appreciates the history of western Arkansas and is deeply connected to it through his family who settled here in the early 1800s,” Wing said. “Both he and Dr. Condren’s passions are railroads, and they will enlighten our audience with their insight into this important part of our heritage.”
Girard said he is looking forward to co-presenting with Condren.
“His vast knowledge of railway history and research far surpasses mine,” Girard said. “Therefore, the program will offer me a great learning experience as well.”
Condren, a retired chemistry professor, grew up in Van Buren and taught in the chemistry department at the College of the Ozarks from 1971 to 1981 before teaching at Christian Brothers University in Memphis until 2009. Condren entertains a lifelong hobby of photographing trains and railroads.
Girard works at First National Bank of Fort Smith and is also a tour guide for the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad Excursion Train. He serves on the board of the Fort Smith Museum of History and is President of the Fort Smith Historical Society.
UAFS acquired the Drennen home and acreage in 2005 and received several grants to restore the property and the house, which dates back to the 1800s. The Drennen-Scott Historic Site, which opened to the public in May 2011, serves as a museum and educational facility for UAFS.
John Drennen was a founder of Van Buren, politician, Indian agent, landowner and businessman. Charles Scott was Drennen's business partner who eventually married Drennen's eldest daughter. Charles and Caroline Scott inherited control of the estate after Drennen's death in 1855.
Limited parking is available at the Visitor Center located on the DSHS property. Those attending may also park at the Crawford County Courthouse, which is two blocks from the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
To make reservations or to find out more information, contact Wing at 479-262-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.