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The Story of the Delta

No place in the United States offers a more interesting heritage than the Arkansas Delta region, and the Delta Gateway museum, housed in the historic Kress Building on Main Street in Blytheville is a work-in-progress, building a reflection of that rich history. In one of the community’s most exciting projects, the Kress, once a “five and dime” and now on the National Registry of Historic Places, will feature a comprehensive look back and to the present. Exhibits will depict the entire history of the agricultural and industrial growth of the area. Also, the museum will trace the people of Mississippi County, their trials and tribulations, the impact of nature, and the expertise they developed from the pre-Colombian era till modern times. Home to a continuous series of temporary exhibits, the Delta Gateway Museum is now installing its first permanent exhibit — a look at the fascinating prehistoric and protohistoric Native American culture that pre-existed farming — and it is worth a visit.

Funded through various sources — private, grants, and public money — the museum provides free, heritage-based cultural and educational opportunities for regional school children, senior citizens, underserved populations, tourists and the general public. This is a real, fully working museum: It collects, stores, maintains and regularly exhibits historical and cultural objects, artifacts, photographs, works of art, printed materials and audiovisual materials that relate to and emphasize the history and cultural development of the region, including Blytheville, Mississippi County, Northeast Arkansas, Southeast Missouri and the Arkansas Delta.

Planned exhibits, in addition to the first on Native American culture, will illustrate the importance of the timber industry and the development of cotton agriculture; the historical effects and continuing threat of earthquakes and flooding; the regional impact of the Air Force base and steel mills; and the development of river, rail and roadway transportation.

The historic Kress Building is owned by the City of Blytheville. Since gaining its spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, the building has been rehabilitated according to federal standards, as set in the “Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties” by the Secretary of the Interior, as well as ADA standards for accessibility and restrooms. DGM currently uses about 6,000 square feet of exhibit, collections storage and administrative space. As funding continues to develop for additional building renovations and rehabilitation, the usable space will eventually increase to 22,000 square feet.

Opened to the public in November 2011, the Delta Gateway facility is overseen by the Delta Gateway Museum Commission, an independent agency created in 2007 for the sole purpose of establishing the museum. The Museum Commission is responsible for managing the facility’s annual expense budget provided by the City of Blytheville, formulating policy, raising funds and supervising the upkeep of the Kress Building, and hiring professional staff to manage day-to-day operations.

“We are doing everything as carefully and thoroughly as possible,” said Leslie Hester, the museum’s director. “The history is so rich, so fascinating…we cannot afford to shortcut it in any way.”

For more information on the Delta Gateway Museum, call (870) 824-2346 or visit deltagatewaymuseum.weebly.com.

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