A branch of the Arkansas State Archives, the mission of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) is to collect and preserve primary and secondary source materials pertaining to the history of southwest Arkansas and its people, and to serve as a resource center for historical research focusing on the unique history, culture, and heritage of the area. SARA, which was founded in 1978 as a project of the Hempstead County Historical Society, with assistance from the Arkansas History Commission, Historic Washington State Park, and the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, is located within Historic Washington State Park. The Arkansas History Commission acquired SARA in 2005.
SARA offers a variety of research resources related to a 12-county region in southwest Arkansas that includes the counties of Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Sevier, and Union.
Holdings include traditional archival material such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, newspapers, and broadsides. Books, periodicals, and other print resources create a general Arkansas history reference library. Some collections of particular interest are the Robert B. Walz Photograph Collection which includes over 2,500 images of people and places around southwest Arkansas in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Simmons Collection which contains 4.6 cubic feet of early Hempstead County Court Records, and the Nan Robson Brown Collection containing photographs and genealogical information of descendants of Arkansas’s first state governor, James Sevier Conway. Records from numerous counties in the region are also available on microfilm.
As one of Arkansas’s earliest counties, Hempstead County was established in 1818, prior to the creation of the Arkansas Territory (1819). The county encompassed all of southwest Arkansas, including parts of present-day northeast Texas until a boundary dispute was settled upon after Arkansas reached statehood status in 1836. Hempstead County was eventually subdivided into the twelve counties now served through SARA.