The year 2013 was a terrible year to be Fort Smith. Gallup named it the sixth most miserable city in America, and Business Insider picked up the story. After Business Insider made the results known, local news organizations plastered it all over the place. Social media was abuzz with the sad news. Fort Smith, though, being the scrappy little border city that it is, just shrugged its shoulders and decided to keep being Fort Smith. You see, the thing Gallup missed is that Fort Smith is actually awesome. Here are 17 reasons why:
1. It’s a character.
Yes, I mean it in the same way your country grandmama meant it when she talked about her outlandishly strange brother. The visitor center is housed in a former brothel. You have to admire any community with that kind of sense of humor.
2. The people
Fort Smith is primarily a blue collar city, and you can meet kind, salt-of-the-earth people there.
3. Low cost of living
The cost of living in Fort Smith is 15% lower than the U.S. average. You can buy a house there for 36% less than the national average.
4. History and Historic Preservation
Fort Smith has a centuries-old, storied history, and it works hard to preserve that history. In addition to the sprawling grounds of the National Historic Site that contains hangin’ judge Isaac C. Parker’s courthouse, jail, and gallows, there is also Miss Laura’s Visitor Center, the Fort Smith Museum of History, and the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.
5. The Riverfront
The city owes its existence largely to its position on the Arkansas River. Fort Smith has developed its riverfront area beautifully with a revitalized downtown area, a beautiful glass pavilion, and a river park with an amphitheater that has a trail that joins with the National Historic Site property. The riverfront is also the future site of the U.S. Marshals Museum.
6. University of Arkansas-Fort Smith
Though it’s not as big or old as the Fayetteville campus, UAFS is nothing to sneeze at. While the campus is beautiful and is constantly growing, the class sizes are generally small, which makes UAFS is its own close-knit community. The School of Education there was recently ranked as the second best in the state.
From traditional Southern fare to authentic Vietnamese restaurants to Indian barbecue to delicious Mexican, Salvadorian, and Nuevo Latino cuisine, Fort Smith is a foodie haven.
The refreshing plate featured above is from Savoy Tea Company, located on Garrison Avenue. The inside of Savoy looks like this:
Fort Smith is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Arkansas. This is most evident in the variety of authentic immigrant-run restaurants. In addition to restaurants, diversity is evident in that four of the five biggest world religions have buildings in which to worship. Fort Smith is home to a variety of Christian churches, including a Catholic monastery—but it is also home to a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, and an Islamic Center.
Fort Smith, being the nearest city to a number of outlying communities, has a lot to offer when it comes to shopping too. Sure, it has major retailers and big box stores, a mall and a few shopping centers, but the real heart of Fort Smith shopping is in its locally owned businesses. Businesses like Belle Starr Antiques, pictured above, an antique mall named after the famous outlaw who frequented Fort Smith.
The border town’s reputation for rough-and-tumble behavior, best depicted in Charles Portis’ novel
True Grit and the two movie adaptations made from it, is still alive and well and centered on the very same avenue. Though you won’t find sheriff’s deputies brawling in the street anymore, Garrison Avenue is home to a great deal of the nightlife in Fort Smith. Where saloons once stood, bars and clubs have taken over. On any given night you can find cold drinks, nice folks, and great local music. Which brings us to...
11. Live Music
You can find great bands playing in restaurants and bars all over town, especially on the weekends.
12. The Unexpected Festival of Murals
This past fall Fort Smith invited international street artists to help beautify and therefore revitalize the downtown area. This was called the Unexpected Festival of Murals. The paintings on the walls of the businesses lining Garrison Avenue are gorgeous, and soon there will be even more to enjoy. This year the festival returns, September 5- September 11.
13. Farmer’s Market
Fort Smith’s Farmer’s Market is open year-round, and they don’t just offer fruits and vegetables, but various and sundry other products made by local folks.
14. Parrot Island Waterpark
Parrot Island opened last year, much to the delight of River Valley residents. It has slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool.
15. Riverfront Blues Festival
Held every year at the Riverfront Amphitheater, the blues festival is a big event. It’s got vendors, great music, and it’s right on the banks of the Arkansas River. The same people who run the Blues Festival also run a program for school kids called Blues in the Schools. This year the festival will be held on June 24th and 25th.
16. Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center
That name is quite a mouthful, but it’s nothing compared to the beauty of the center or its educational value to Fort Smith families. Families can learn about native Arkansas wildlife, archery, and watch the snakes eat at feeding time. They can also rent a fishing pole and fish the small lake nearby.
17. Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair
The Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair has everything you want from a fair: rides, food, games, livestock competitions, and tons o’ fun. It’s held every year at Kay Rodgers Park in Fort Smith.
Keep on keepin’ on, Fort Smith. Never let those haters get you down.