Plantation Agriculture Museum

Scott Arkansas

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Museum exhibits and interpretive programs at the Plantation Agriculture Museum interpret the history of cotton agriculture from 1836 through World War II when agricultural practices quickly became mechanized.  See how cotton was grown and ginned, and learn about plantation life.

The state's rich agricultural heritage from the era when plantations were abundant and cotton was king is preserved at the Plantation Agriculture Museum, Arkansas's 47th state park. Housed in a general store built in 1912, the museum offers exhibits and programs that interpret what life was like on the many cotton farms and plantations that shaped the fabric of Arkansas. Located at the junction of U.S. 165 and Ark. 16 in Scott, the museum is 15 minutes from downtown Little Rock. For more information, call (501) 961-1409.

SCOTT -- When the 1803 Louisiana Purchase opened up unspoiled lands west of the Mississippi River, whispers of Arkansas's fertile soil and bountiful game soon began to lure planters in search of better life. Several such adventurers settled on rich land along the Arkansas River in central Arkansas.

Conoway Scott arrived in the 1830s and, after years of work, boasted several successful ventures including a large plantation and a general store. Scott's landholdings were eventually crossed by the St. Louis Railroad, also known as the "Cotton Belt," and "Scott's Station" or "Scott's Crossing" became a regular stop. When damaged, the sign at Scott's Station was shortened to "Scott's" and then just "Scott" -- giving name to the town of Scott.

The growth of the railroads and nearby Little Rock drew more planters to the town, and by the turn of the 20th century, a thriving community dominated by cotton plantations was well established. As cotton farms grew in size and number, merchants opened several general stores. In 1912, Conoway Scott Jr. built a large brick building for the purpose of opening a general store, but it was never managed by Scott or his heirs.

Instead, the store was operated under several other owners. In 1929 a post office wing was added and remained in use until the 1960s when Robert L. Dortch, a prominent plantation owner in Scott, and his daughter, Floride Dortch Rebsamen, bought the building and turned it into a museum that commemorated plantation life in Arkansas.

Plans for the "Plantation Museum" were grand and included designs for a living history compound encompassing the more than 20 structures that the Dortches felt typified a common cotton plantation. Although those plans were never fully realized, the museum did grow to include thousands of artifacts ranging from blacksmith tools and kitchen appliances to a pair of colossal steam traction engines. Dortch also purchased a steam-powered train and offered visitors a "luncheon" ride from the museum to nearby Bearskin Lake and back.

Although Dortch donated many of the artifacts, most came from friends and neighbors. Floride Dortch Rebsamen developed an ingenious plan to expand the collection by establishing a "key club" that called for the distribution of several museum keys to prominent members of the community who were asked to donate artifacts and to conduct tours during the owner's frequent and extended absences. The plan was a tremendous success, netting a treasure trove of new artifacts.

The Plantation Museum's success was short lived, though. In 1978, just six years after Robert Dortch's death, it closed its doors. After the closure, Robert Dortch Jr. moved the trains and tracks to Eureka Springs, where they remain in operation today. For seven years the museum was neglected and many of its artifacts were damaged or reclaimed by their owners.

Largely because of the farsightedness and urgings of State Rep. Bill Foster, the state legislature in 1985 approved funding to acquire the land and building and to renovate the museum. The Dortch family donated all remaining artifacts to the museum. On June 25, 1989, the museum reopened under the Arkansas State Park System's Museum Division as the Plantation Agriculture Museum, with a new mission to "...collect, preserve, record and interpret the history of cotton agriculture with an emphasis on plantations."

Today there are more than 10,000 artifacts at the Plantation Agriculture Museum. Exhibits in the main gallery include: one that interprets the entire process of growing cotton on a plantation; a mule exhibit, which explains the value and uses of mules on plantations; and a re-creation of a plantation era kitchen, complete with ice box and wood-burning stove. Scott Winfield Bond, who was born a slave in 1852 and freed at the age of 13, is the focus of another exhibit. Through cotton farming, orchards he owned and other business ventures, Bond was one of the wealthiest black men in Arkansas when he died in 1933.

The main gallery also features temporary exhibits, such as one on dairy farming and another that interprets Arkansas's steamboat history, both of which are currently on display. Outside, exhibits include an authentic cotton pen, steam traction engines and a diverse collection of antique tractors and farm implements. The museum's staff offers a variety of interpretive programs, and visitors can even pick cotton from the museum's interpretive cotton patch.

Future plans call for Dortch's 1916, two-stand cotton gin and his cotton press to be restored and housed within a freestanding exhibition building. Also slated for restoration is Dortch's unique 10,000-square-foot seed warehouse used to store and distribute cotton, soybean and rice seeds he developed.

Exhibits

Ascent from Slavery
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

This exhibit introduces the story of Scott Bond, an African American from Arkansas, who was born a slave and gained freedom at age 13. He worked his way to national prominence and became one of the most prosperous farmers in the state.

Arkansas State Parks

Churning Up Butter: Dairies Big and Small in Arkansas
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

Before milk was sold at every store from a refrigerated shelf, Arkansas farm families depended on their cows for milk and butter. Commercial and plantation dairies produced products for city dwellers, but the farm family milk cow continued to be a mainstay until modernization of the industry.

Arkansas State Parks

Cotton Patch (outdoor exhibition, April-September)
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

Get a close look at cotton as it grows throughout the season.

Arkansas State Parks

Cotton Pen
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

See actual an actual pen as part of the cotton exhibitry at Plantatation Agriculture Museum. Cotton pens, or cotton houses, were used to store freshly picked cotton; built with runners as a foundation, they were pulled by mules to the fields. Sharecroppers stored their cotton in pens until they had collected enough for a bale.

Arkansas State Parks

Cotton: Field to Gin
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

Exhibit explains how cotton was grown and picked using hand labor and draft animals. See artifacts including plows, cultivators, fertilizers, planters, cotton sacks and scales. Guided tours are available for individuals and families upon request, or groups of 15 or more with advance notice.

Arkansas State Parks

Dortch Cotton Gin Exhibit Building
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

See the historic Dortch Gin in our new gin exhibit facility. Learn about the ginning process, from the suction tube to the bale press. Each piece of equipment is identified and explained. Guided tours are available for individuals and families upon request, or groups of 15 or more with advance notice.

Arkansas State Parks

Early Kitchen
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

See a kitchen equipped with a wood stove, butter churn, ice box refrigerator, and other common kitchen items used in the 1920's to 1930's.

Arkansas State Parks

Mule Barn
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

This exhibit includes mule name boards, tack, shoeing equipment, and medicine closet. Learn the basics about mules and how they were used on farms and plantations.

Arkansas State Parks

Steam Powered Traction Engines and Early Tractors (outdoor exhibition)
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

Huge traction engines were more likely to have powered a thresher or a cotton gin than to have plowed fields; it was not until the 1920’s that tractors began to appear on plantations and farms. The tractors on display at Plantantion Agriculture Museum illustrate the beginnings of mechanized farming.

Arkansas State Parks

The Flood of 1927
Dates/Times: Open daily Tuesday through Sunday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.
Fees: Museum admission: $3 adults, $2 children
Self-Guided: Yes

Photographs and text tell stories of the flood of 1927 in Arkansas. Heavy rains occurred during Janurary 1927, and on April 20th, the Arkansas River crested 11 feet above the flood stages, at 34.4 feet. Steamboats passed over what had been farms and fields, rescuing people from rooftops and trees.
Location: Pulaski County
Size: 14.5 acres

The Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott (Pulaski County) is situated in the Arkansas River lowlands beside Horseshoe Lake, about twenty miles southeast of Little Rock (Pulaski County). The museum is dedicated to Arkansas’s rich cotton agriculture heritage.

William Scott emigrated from Kentucky at an unknown date to the area that would become the town of Scott. His son Conoway Scott Sr. was born in 1815. By 1862, the Scott family owned 2,000 acres, ten slaves,  and other property, valued at $37,895. Conoway Scott Sr. died in 1866 just before the birth of his son, Conoway Jr. 

Conoway Scott Jr. eventually operated several successful ventures, including the family plantation and a general store. Scott’s landholdings were eventually crossed by the St. Louis–Southwestern Railroad, also known as the Cotton Belt Line, and “Scott’s Station” or “Scott’s Crossing” became a regular stop. When damaged, the sign at Scott’s Station was shortened to “Scott’s” and then just “Scott,” giving name to the town. By the turn of the twentieth century, a thriving community dominated by cotton plantations was well established. As the cotton farms grew in size and number, merchants opened several general stores. In 1912, Conoway Scott Jr. built a large brick building to house a general store, but neither he nor his heirs ever managed it.

Instead, the store was operated under several other owners, and in 1929, a post office wing was added. It remained in use until the 1960s, when Robert L. Dortch, a prominent plantation owner in Scott, and his daughter, Floride Dortch Rebsamen, bought the building and turned it into a museum commemorating Arkansas plantation life.

The museum eventually grew to include thousands of artifacts ranging from blacksmith tools and kitchen appliances to a pair of huge steam traction engines. Although Dortch donated many of the artifacts, most came from friends and neighbors. The museum closed its doors in 1978, six years after Robert Dortch’s death. For seven years, the museum was neglected, and many of its artifacts were damaged when the building’s roof fell into disrepair.

Mainly because of lobbying done by the late state Representative Bill Foster of Keo (Lonoke County), the Legislature approved funding for land and building acquisition and renovation in 1985. The Dortch family donated all remaining artifacts to the museum. On June 25, 1989, the museum reopened under the Museum Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism as the Plantation Agriculture Museum, with a new mission to “collect, preserve, record, and interpret the history of cotton agriculture, with an emphasis on plantations.”

Today, the museum has more than 10,000 artifacts. Exhibits take visitors “from the field to the gin,” explaining how cotton was grown and harvested in the pre-mechanized era. The life and culture of people from slaves to sharecroppers to plantation owners are explored in the museum’s exhibits.

Outside the museum, the Dortch Gin Exhibit building features a 1920s Munger cotton gin and cotton press that has been authentically preserved and assembled in its original configuration by ginning experts. Slated for future restoration is Dortch’s unique 10,000-square-foot seed warehouse, used to store and distribute cotton, soybean, and rice seeds he developed.

The museum’s main gallery also features temporary exhibits; outside exhibits include an authentic cotton pen, steam traction engines, and a diverse collection of antique tractors and farm implements. The museum’s staff offers a variety of interpretive programs.


 

Directions to Park

The museum is at the junction of U.S. 165
and Arkansas 161 in Scott
(just 30 minutes from Little Rock/North Little Rock)

Contact Information

P.O. Box 87, Scott,  AR  72142
E-mail:  PlantationAgriMuseum@Arkansas.com
Information:  1-501-961-1409


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