It was a Lonoke County history book project that became the genesis for the Lonoke County Museum, director Sherryl Miller recalled in an interview. Many of the people who gave information for the book also said they had items they would donate if there were a museum to house them, "We figured, why not?" she said.
The Lonoke County Museum, now approaching the 20-year mark of when efforts began to establish it, has become a county landmark recognized by Arkansas Museum Services, Arkansas Department of Tourism, and Arkansas Historical Preservation Program (AHPP).
The museum is a private, non-profit organization, meaning there is no government funding for operating costs, Miller said. Various agency grants have been used to build displays and exhibits.
"But the operating costs we have to meet on our own," she said.
Uniforms, combat awards, household items, books, letters, paintings, photographs and other historical finds line the walls, fill displays; accounts tell the stories behind the items. Wildlife displays tell of the natural history of Lonoke County.
A full-size replica of 1900 "Main Street" gives a sense of what Lonoke County life was like at the turn of the 19th century.
Dioramas are a specialty of the museum, giving a three-dimensional perspective of the events and places of county history, Miller said. "We make our dioramas on our own," she said.
The table-size dioramas include the Battle of Brownsville; the native American mounds at Toltec; the center of Lonoke in its heyday; and Ebert Field - a World War I pilot training center.
Work on the history book was through 1996 and 1997, Miller said. In March 1998 work had progressed to the point that then-Lonoke Prairie County Library System director Phillip Ross called on the quorum court to voice support for the work to preserve the county’s heritage.
The recognition was symbolic, and came with no funding, but it was one of the ways that announced that the museum effort was, indeed, serious.
Seeing the museum effort growing, people made good on their promises and began donating items, Miller said.
"Oh my," she said. " We had things stored here, there and everywhere. We had things in the library, in cotton warehouses. We had a diorama on display at the Bank of the Ozarks."
In 2005, the Bennett family of Lonoke donated land and a building to house the museum to honor J. O. "Pete" and Gertrude Bennett.
Appropriately, the former residence-doctor’s office-car dealer-community group headquarters at 215 Front St SE, is one of the oldest brick buildings in Lonoke, Miller said.
"It is old enough that [AHPP] gave a grant to repair the roof," Miller said. The roof is made with Spanish oak timbers.
The central museum building was built in 1877; Lonoke County was formed in 1873, Miller said. The museum has since expanded adding the Lonoke County Family Research Center (genealogy room), with work under way to add a foyer.
The genealogy room is proving to be the museum’s most popular service, Miller said. The genealogy room provides photos, scrapbooks, letters, diaries, and maps from the mid-1800s to current times. A survey of cemetery headstones is being updated; when it was done it was the most extensive record that was available, she said.
The museum also has various county court records, and abstracts from the Lonoke Democrat and other newspapers from 1873 through 1965.
But it has been enhanced with the museum taking on the storage of the county’s paper records. "We have county records older than the county," she said.
"Not only can you find when great-grandma and grandpa got divorced, but you can find out why they got divorced," Miller laughed.
But a large portion of the county records needs to be compiled. "So, if anyone wants to volunteer, there is plenty for them to do here," Miller said.
The museum hosts the monthly meeting of the Civil War Roundtable, Miller said. The Roundtable meets 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.
The Lonoke County Museum and Research Center is chartered a non-profit corporation, with 501C(3) status.
Annual membership fees are $10 per person, $15 per couple,
$25 per family, $25 for corporate memberships, $200 per
person for a lifetime membership, $1000 for a corporate
The museum board of directors includes Miller as president; vice president, Mary Lingo; treasurer, Shirley Tomlinson; secretary Sue Slaughter; Cecelia Anderson, Phillip Ross and Carol Bevis.