Fort Smith, a small city with a BIG history, a BIG heart, and an even BIGGER flavor!
In the grand scheme of things, Fort Smith might seem like a quaint, little town but it’s actually the second-largest city in Arkansas…it’s also one of the oldest. Founded in 1817 as a military outpost, Fort Smith helped shape the beginnings of the Arkansas we know today! Since we Lap Around Americans have a penchant for all things National Parks a trip to the Fort Smith National Historic Site was in order.
We headed out on a rainy day and crossed our fingers it would clear up by the time we rolled in. ?
This is our new intern, Lizzy. Say hey!
We decided to make a pit stop on our way to the historic site and check out the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. My travel buddy, *cough* Cari Kaufman *cough*, has a serious addiction to art museums so we HAD to check it out!
And this is Cari. The Art Addict.
We were greeted by the gallery manager, Casey Seamans, who told us all about the current exhibits; Tim Ernst: Arkansas Wilderness (a spectacular exhibition featuring large photographs taken in remote, wild and scenic areas of Arkansas) and A Family Affair: Three Artists, Three Visions, One Family (a trifecta of three different styles created by Dede Hutcheson, Robyn Horn, and Karen Hutcheson).
Tim Ernst: Arkansas Wilderness
June 16 – August 30
These pictures don’t even BEGIN to capture Tim Ernst’s breathtaking images of Arkansas’ beauty. You can see more of his work at https://timernst.com/.
A Family Affair: Three Artists, Three Visions, One Family
March 13 – October 11
Fort Smith doesn’t skimp when it comes to art that’s for sure! We saw these creations as we made our way through Downtown Fort Smith to…..
Fort Smith National Historic Site
The Fort Smith NHS tells the tale of almost 80 years of Arkansas history. Ranging from the establishment of the first Fort Smith on December 25, 1817, to the final days of Judge Isaac C. Parker’s ( aka “the Hangin’ Judge”) jurisdiction over Indian Territory in 1896.
The Barracks/Jail/Courthouse doubles as the Visitor Center. Sadly, it was closed due to Covid.
The original Barracks burned down just three years after they were built in 1846. In 1871 it was rebuilt and the Federal Court moved in, using one room as a courtroom, the other rooms as offices, and the basement as a primitive jail. When they say primitive BOY do they mean it. The conditions were so terrible the jail was nicknamed “Hell on the Border“.
Along with the Jail/Courthouse, the 2nd Fort Smith (which once was surrounded by a massive 12ft high stone wall) consists of a reproduction of the original Gallows, the site of the old Guardhouse, the Commissary, and the remains of the Officers Quarters.
The largest of the federal court’s gallows was constructed on this site in 1886. During the 24 years that executions took place in Fort Smith, 87 men died on the gallows and a whopping 160 were sentenced to hang by Judge Isaac C. Parker…guess you can see why he picked up the title “The Hangin’ Judge”.
The Commissary was my favorite building to check out! This is the oldest standing building in Fort Smith dating all the way back 1838. It was originally intended to be one of five bastions, but ultimately was converted to a storehouse and makeshift living space- the Commissary. The inside is fully recreated to reflect what the old store house might have looked like complete with cans of food, barrels of flour, and a simple living area.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Fort Smith is that it’s actually not the FIRST Fort Smith. The site of the original Fort Smith is actually a half mile walk away, across the Indian Territory line. Solders started construction on the first Fort Smith in 1819 and worked tirelessly for 5 years to complete the settlement…only to have to do it all over again in 1824 when they were ordered to move further West. Talk about a bummer. The Fort was eventually lost to time and the foundation would not be discovered again until 120 years later by some archeologists. There was a weird sort of spooky nostalgia that came over us standing on these ruins. It was kind of a strange feeling to think that about how quickly the things that humans build can turn to rubble.
After our hike, which we were completely unprepared for by the way, we were hungry to say the least. How convenient that the Good Lord would place possibly the BEST restaurant in Arkansas just five minutes away from where we were…
Rolando’s is the inspired creation of partners Sherri Cuzco and Rolando, a native of Ecuador. Rolando is, at heart, an artist and that is evident in the unique Central/South American Fusion entrees and his hand carved murals that cover the walls. If you’re in the mood for seriously good Latin food and some of the nicest people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting…go to Rolando’s.
The minute we stepped in the restaurant we were greeted by the manager, Scott, and our waiter, Vince; two of the most kind and genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting! They told us all about the restaurant’s history and the best items to get off the menu.
Salsa, Guacamole, Queso Flamado
The salsa is not your classic Mexican restaurant salsa…it’s better! Filled with corn, beans, peppers, and tomato chunks, it was a refreshing start to the meal. They usually only serve salsa at dinner time, buuuuut they might make a special allowance if you ask nicely. The guacamole was equally delicious and super creamy, the giant orange tortilla chips were the perfect dipping vessel. Lizzy HATES guacamole and even she liked their guac. Then came the Queso Flamado…they actually set the cheese ON FIRE at your table!! This stuff is the real deal, no fake cheese here. It stays nice and gooey while it’s hot but as it cools it hardens up to a cuttable cheese disc that is PERFECT wrapped up in a tortilla.
Pescado De Mesias, El Plato Cubano, Jose’s Quesadillas
All of these dishes were suggested by Scott and Vince, a mix of popular menu items and their personal favorites. I personally had the Pescado De Mesias, a breaded Tilapia with tequila and caper sauce, according to Scott this is the best dish on the menu. Now, I’ve had seafood on almost every coast of the United States and, honest to goodness, THIS was the best prepared fish I’ve ever had. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, but the sauce was the true star of the show. I am ashamed to say I would have literally licked the plate clean if no one else was there! Cari’s dish, the El Plato Cubano, was a gigantic plate full of black beans, rice, and lightly pickled veggies topped with our choice of pork or chicken…we sprung for both! The pork was full of flavor and melt in your mouth tender as it’s slow-cooked over the course of 24 hours. The chicken (that we all agreed was our favorite of the two) is pounded flat, breaded lightly and seasoned with Spanish paprika, then grilled to a crispy, flaky, tender perfection. Lizzy ordered Vince’s favorite, the Jose’s Quesadilla. Filled with cheese, chicken and pork, and drizzled with tomatillo sour cream sauce, it was just right for a less adventurous eater!
Sopapilla Cheesecake, Caribbean Rum Cake
We were like blow-up, loosen the belt buckle, pass out and die kind of full at this point but dessert doesn’t care about that. When they placed the cheesecake and rum cake on the table we knew we were in for the long haul. The Sopapilla Cheesecake was a pleasing blend of sweet cinnamon sugar and tangy cream cheese topped with whipped cream and, like any good sopapilla, honey. It was good, but was definitely overshadowed by the Caribbean Rum Cake. Peep that pic of Cari…that’s how we ALL felt when we took that first bite of warm, soft rum cake. I mean tears came to my eyes as this cake just melted in my mouth. The flavors are impeccable, the taste of rum is not too strong, and the toasted pecans add the perfect bit of crunch. There’s a reason it’s a house specialty…
Vince, who is also an avid traveler, left a sweet card on our truck! You’re the best Vince!
Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an art connoisseur, or you just need to get of the house for the day (or weekend) you won’t be bored in Fort Smith!