The keeper of the secrets of the Grand Prairie

 

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Story by Renee Durham
Photos by Renee Durham and Heather Thurman


 

Arkansas County has the epitome of a prodigy.  Gena Seidenschwarz is an archivist at the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie.  She has only worked there 14 years, yet if you wander the museum with Gina at your side, you can tell she has become one with all 20,000 square feet full of treasures within.

At every turn, this amazing woman, with a rolodex of facts in her head, remembers the smallest details of the local families; when they got here, ancestors, date of first rice crop sown on their land, who married into which family, where they lived, what relatives still live in the area or even in Arkansas.

According the website, the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie holds more than 15,000 accessioned artifacts.  I would bet a cup of coffee that Gina has at least one fact stored away for each item. She admits as a child she was naturally curious about EVERYTHING, and she loves to see kids come to the museum on field trips so they can learn about the history of the area.

“This museum is for everyone.” Gina says.  “If you walk in the door, you have become part of the museum and our history.”  It’s not just for folks in Stuttgart. In fact, more than one thousand visitors per month are curious enough to visit the museum from all over the world.

If you have not visited Stuttgart’s Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, you are in for a treat.  What started as meager beginnings in 1974 has grown to an overwhelming collection; possessions that wove together the lives of many families from across the region, state and beyond.  Inside, you will find shop fronts and buildings set up to depict a town’s main street, as well as collections of household items, family photos, tools, tractors and more. Honestly, there is far too much to do the museum justice by attempting to list it out.  The waterfowl wing is a favorite during duck season and for children. Throughout the museum, homage is paid to farmers, with tools dating back to mid 1800’s.

The grounds have several outbuildings, which include a replica of the first Emanuel Lutheran church complete with pews from the original structure. There is also a prairie farm house, and school to enjoy. New items are acquired regularly through donations from the community, and there are some exciting new plans in the works that should delight visitors. But, we’re going to let Gina tell you about that when you go visit!

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