On October 1, 2005, the Arkansas History Commission acquired the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) in Washington, Arkansas. SARA was founded in 1978 as a project of the Hempstead County Historical Society with assistance from the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives, Old Washington Historic State Park, and the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation. Its mission is to serve the twelve counties in southwest Arkansas formed from the original Hempstead County: Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Sevier, and Union. In 1980, the SARA became an independent entity governed by a board of directors composed of two representatives from each of the twelve counties.
A ceremony transferring SARA to the Arkansas History Commission and celebrating its twenty-seven year history was held on October 29, 2005. Among the speakers were Louis Stubbs, SARA Board Member & Master of Ceremonies; Mary Medearis, SARA’s first director; John L. Ferguson, former director of the Arkansas History Commission; Mildred Smith, SARA founder & Board Member; Parker Westbrook, Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation; Richard Davies, Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism Executive Director; Wendy Richter, Director, Arkansas History Commission. SARA’s new director, Peggy Lloyd, and Administrative Assistant, Gail Martin represented the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. Ms. Medearis and Dr. Ferguson, assisted by Dr. Richter and Ms. Lloyd, cut a ribbon symbolizing the opening of the state’s first regional archives. The day’s activities also included four workshops given by the History Commission staff, and SARA’s Third Annual Genealogy Fair. All events were held in the restored 1914 Schoolhouse at Old Washington Historic State Park.
The agency continues the tradition of organizing and maintaining the state and local history of Arkansas by collecting manuscript materials, census records, military records, family histories, and various county, state and federal records. The History Commission, which in 1971 became part of the Department of Parks and Tourism, moved to its present quarters at the One Capitol Mall Building in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1979. The web address is www.ark-ives.com.
Over the past twenty-seven years, the Arkansas History Commission and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives have worked together on many occasions to ensure the preservation of archival material. The History Commission has provided professional training for SARA staff, technical and monetary support, and supplies.
The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives is a resource center for historical research, dedicated to the purpose of collecting and preserving primary source materials that bring together the unique history of Southwest Arkansas. SARA actively collects and documents life in the twelve counties. These materials include letters, journals, maps, scrapbooks, family histories, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper files, manuscript collections, sheet music, town histories, court records, census records, cemetery records, early post office records, Civil War documents, and a library of rare books relating to the area. The Archives also has hundreds of histories and genealogies of families and individuals who lived in Southwest Arkansas.