Living History

Living History

Shiloh Museum still evolving at 50


The Shiloh Museum started without a home, a name, a curator or a mission. All it had in 1965 was a collection of Native American artifacts the city of Springdale purchased from Guy Howard, a former Springdale city attorney, mayor and judge, for $15,000 — although that was a tidy sum equal to about $120,000 in today’s money.

It wasn’t until 1968 that the museum got a piece of a building — the upstairs of the old library at the corner of Main and Johnson — and a new facility designed as a museum wasn’t completed until 1991.

What the Shiloh Museum always had, says its director, Allyn Lord, were an open door and an open heart. She first visited the museum in the 1980s, she remembers, when she was treasurer for the Arkansas Museums Association.

“I spent hours doing research down in the basement where the museum collections were stored,” she recalls. “Shiloh Museum then was small and a bit antiquated, but I was welcomed with much the same friendliness and offers of help that I hope we greet everyone with today.

“Like many small museums, the Shiloh Museum started with dreams, one part-time paid employee, and a small collection, in a small building,” Lord muses. “But like many mid-sized museums, the Shiloh Museum has grown because of the hundreds of people who had a bigger vision and were generous with their time, energy and money. We’ve grown because there were dreams of serving more people, telling more stories, and becoming a destination for our region and tourists alike. We’ve grown because the city of Springdale embraces our mission, cares for its citizens’ quality of life, and understands the value of community-centered and lifelong learning. We’ve grown because we’ve had wise boards of trustees who care for and steward the museum’s financial assets and policies.

“I like to think of the museum’s growth as dendritic,” she goes on. “Like a planted tree, with enough tending, resources, room to grow, and yes, just a bit of luck, it becomes firmly rooted in place, branches off with new ventures, is beautiful to look at in its fullness, and makes its surroundings a better place to live. I think we’re the perfect size museum in order to serve our audiences, stay personal and welcoming, be mindful of the preservation of our history, and yet be open to change and expansion.”

With its 50th birthday approaching in 2018, the museum staff embarked in 2013 on the biggest project since the new facility opened — a redesign of all of its galleries.

“We had a number of major projects on our to-do list and nowhere near the funding we’d need to get them done,” Lord remembers. “There was only one project that, instead of hiring a contractor to do, we could do using our own expertise, time and skills — and that was an entire exhibit hall renovation. Many of our exhibits were more than 20 years old and desperately needed a makeover. We knew that it might not be as slick and snazzy as a professional museum exhibit firm would create, but we figured that we didn’t really need slick and snazzy, just excellent — and we knew we had the skills to do that. And we knew we could do it for much less than one of those out-of-state companies; in fact, it turns out we’ve done it at about one-sixteenth the cost — around $100,000 rather than about $1.6 million!”

Lord says she and the staff were all committed to one thing — “staying true to our mission, telling the stories of the everyday men, women and children who make history every day. We wanted to be inclusive, making sure that the stories were broad enough to give everyone a voice, as well as making the stories accessible. That also meant presenting the stories in both English and Spanish – as far as we know, we’re the only museum in Arkansas with bilingual core exhibits. Accessibility was also important in other ways, such as interactive elements, large print, good lighting, wide circulation routes, and label and object placement at a height for children and those in wheelchairs.

“Each senior staff member volunteered to curate one of the five galleries, and we set a schedule so that we’d complete the entire exhibit hall in time for our 50th anniversary.”

At this very moment, the museum staff is sliding in under the wire to be ready to celebrate on Sept. 8 & 22. But they’ve moved every exhibit hall wall, written all the text, edited all the photographs and gotten help in the places they lacked expertise — Spanish translation, film creation, mural painting and more.

“Surprises?” Lord says with a laugh, saying there were some that were stranger than others. “Who knew you could get a real (taxidermied) razorback to help illustrate 19th-century food and hunting? Imagine acrylic spraying chicken feed for a poultry-raising exhibit (because without the sealant, the feed is a pest attractant). You can make a railroad depot wall double as a door without anyone knowing it. Creating a fake limestone Ozark bluff shelter is equal parts ingenuity, art, shoulder-distressing tool use, optical illusion, expertise and happy mistake.

“We’re proud of our exhibits and will continue to offer fresh, interesting, educational, and timely updates and changes as we move forward from our 50th.”

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum
Wayne Martin (left) shares historic photos at Pettigrew Day in April 2004. For over 20 years, the museum cosponsored the annual Pettigrew Day, along with community leaders like Wayne and June Martin. The event honored, collected and preserved the rich history of Pettigrew and south Madison County.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum/Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection
Staff pose at the construction site of the new museum building in August 1990. From left: education coordinator M.K. Motherwell, secretary Betty Bowling, director Bob Besom, collections manager Carolyn Reno, and assistant director Mary Parsons.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum
Shiloh Museum board members process donations to the fundraising campaign in 1988. By 1990 the museum had raised $1.1 million for the construction of a new, 22,000-square-foot facility. About a third of the funding came from the city of Springdale while the remaining funds were raised privately. Major contributors included the Tyson Foundation and Bernice Jones. Standing, from left, are Frank O’Donnel, Lawrence Layman, Joe Roberts, Dr. Dwight Heathman, Ed Preddy, Jim Carpenter, Dr. Stanley Applegate and Roy Bowman. Seated, from left, are Jim Ritter, Mary Sellers, Maudine Sanders, Betty Tollett, Bettye Mohney and David Quin.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum / Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection
Curator Linda Allen shows Native American artifacts to schoolchildren on Oct. 1, 1968. In 1965 the city of Springdale purchased artifacts from Judge Guy Howard of Springdale with the idea of starting a museum. The museum’s first home was in the old city library, built in 1927.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum
Paul Ahrens demonstrates how to shear a sheep at the Sheep-to-Shawl event in October 1988. The first “Sheep-to-Shawl” was held in 1987, in collaboration with the Northwest Arkansas Handweavers Guild and the Wool and Wheel Handspinners Guild. Each year this award-winning program gives hundreds of students the chance to learn how sheep are sheared, how their wool is spun into yarn, and how that yarn is turned into woven fabric.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum
Master boat-builder Liton Beasa (left) works with others to build a kōrkōr, a traditional wooden fishing canoe of the Marshall Islands, in April 2018. The project was co-sponsored by the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese with grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum
Lynda Hicklin chats in front of her quilt display during the Ozark Quilt Fair in September 2010. In 1995 the Arts Center of the Ozarks handed over the sponsorship and operation of the fair to the museum. Held on the lawn under an ancient burr oak tree, the fair features colorful quilts, old and new, hanging from clotheslines.



Shiloh Museum

50th Anniversary

WHAT — 50th Anniversary Frolic, including music by Rachel B/Table for 3, “Experience the Old-Time Ozarks” activity stations, local food trucks, adult beverages, cake and a signature ice cream created by Loblolly Creamery for the museum’s anniversary

WHEN — 5-7:30 p.m. Sept. 8


WHAT — 50th Anniversary Family Celebration, including a scavenger hunt, old-fashioned toys and games, life-size historic cut-outs for photographs, and cake and ice cream

WHEN — 2-4 p.m. Sept. 22

WHERE — Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, 118 W. Johnson Ave. in Springdale

COST — Free; reservations required for both events

INFO — 750-8165



Shiloh Museum


1965 — Guy Howard, former mayor, sells some 10,000 Native American artifacts to the city of Springdale for $15,000 to start a museum.

1967 — Linda Allen is hired as part-time curator.

1968 — The Shiloh Museum opens Sept. 7 in the old library at the corner of Main and Johnson.

1977 — Mary Parsons organizes the photo collection, later the largest in the state.

1978 — The Steele General Store is moved to the grounds.

1979 — The Ritter-McDonald log cabin is moved to the grounds.

1981 — Lockwood and Annabel Searcy left their property to the museum, giving the Shiloh an entire city block.

1985 — Fundraising for a new building begins.

1986 — Dr. John C. Carter’s office is moved to the grounds.

1988 — The first Pettigrew Day takes place in Madison County.

1990 — The museum breaks ground for a new building.

1991 — The new facility opens on Sept. 15.

1993 — The museum changes its name to “Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.”

1995 — The Cooper barn is moved to the grounds.

2005 — New Era Lodge, Order of Odd Fellows, donates its 1871 building to the museum.

— Bob Besom retires after 25 years as director; Allyn Lord is hired.

2010 — The museum serves 73,528 people, the largest number ever.

2013 — The front desk and museum store are redesigned and renovated.

2015 — The first of the renovated exhibit halls, “Settling the Ozarks: 1820-1860,” opens.

2018 — The Shiloh Meeting Hall celebrates a grand opening on June 30.

— The museum celebrates 50 years with special events on Sept. 8 & 22.

— Timeline courtesy Allyn Lord

Categories: Family Friendly