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The title "Changing Times" is a reference to the recent additions on the site. A completely new structure was recently constructed just adjacent to this historic building, whose future is uncertain. It was deemed too expensive to renovate this century-old building, so a new complex was built, but that means that this building is no longer in use, and is probably no longer being maintained. The last I heard was that a decision had not yet been made whether to sell it or to demolish it. Recently, a once-in-a-lifetime auction was held to sell off its contents, which is worrying to me, as this has been a Fort Smith institution for generations. I can't imagine this magnificent structure being torn down. I'll add information as I come across it, hopefully with good news.

This impressive monastery has a long and storied history. Plans were afoot as early as the mid-19th century to bring Catholic missionaries into this part of the country. Benedictine monks arrived in 1878 and built an initial monastery in Subiaco; sisters arrived later that year and opened the first Catholic school in Logan County at St. Benedict's in Creole. This convent (called the Monastery since 1986, so I still remember it as The Convent) was founded on January 23, 1879 by "pioneer sisters" who at one point lived in log cabins. By 1898 the structure had grown to include a quadrangular building surrounding a courtyard and several other associated buildings. The sisters moved to Fort Smith in 1925, so this present structure isn't as old as it perhaps seems. The primary goal was education. Until 1944, grade school students, which included both day and boarding students attended along with high school girls, but eventually a new high school was built north of the convent in 1958. It was closed only ten years later because of declining enrollment. A second goal was a health care ministry. My great grandmother lived for several years at the end of her life in a nursing home facility just a short distance from this convent, and I remember fondly many of the sisters who would come to minister to the residents there. I remember speaking with many of them when I was a child, and I was always impressed with their humility and kindness to everyone. These days, the convent operates a retreat center in the former St. Scholastica academy. The motto "ora et labora," pray and work, is a primary Benedictine motto. Sisters are counselors, religious educators, advocates for various social justice issues, and partakers in nursing home and prayer ministry. If you're interested in more information, a two-volume history of the St. Scholastica monastery was written by one of the sisters. The second volume was debuted for the 125th anniversary in 2005.

About the town of Fort Smith:

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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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 80 W: 78 N: 897] (1691)
  • Genre: Places
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2015-10-00
  • Categories: Architecture
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2019-09-09 13:10
Viewed: 148
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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 80 W: 78 N: 897] (1691)
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