In Stuttgart, Ark. -

Museum records prairie agriculture Congratulations are in order for the men and women - farmers and city folk - who brought their dreams to fruition by building and outfitting the Agricultural Museum in Stuttgart, Ark.

Opened in 1974, the museum records the fortitude of the early settlers (primarily German) on this part of Arkansas' Grand Prairie. They were attracted first and foremost to the area because of the wonderful prairie grasses, which were excellent for grazing and hay production.

Back then they had no idea of the wealth that the heavy black water-holding soils would bring later in excellent production of rice, soybeans, corns and small grains. And now the lead ducks, the mallards, attract hunters from all over the world, boosting cash flow in the off-farming season.

Jack Crum and Mrs. Bennie Burkett were the prime movers in the early effort to preserve the area's heritage, according to Pat Peacock, direction of the Agricultural Museum.

The museum is supported by donations and hundreds of volunteer workers, such as Jack Crum, Wayne Clow, Bill Burkett, Johnny Burkett, Russel Roth, and Jim Gengerich, just a few of those who have restored most of the old farm machinery found at the museum.

The Amici Club, motivated by Mrs. Burkett, did most of the archival work, bringing more than 10,000 artifacts (only a dozen of them purchased) into the museum. Farmers and others in the area cleaned out attics, closets, sheds, and barns to stock the museum.

The museum tells the story of the early beginnings of the prairie Indians, the early settlers, and the great rice, soybean and grain businesses of today in simple yet informative displays. Visitors can see how those first German families lived, worked, played, and worshiped.

Hours can be spent in the 20,000-square foot air-conditioned and heated facility that cost $500,000. All of the indoor and outdoor exhibits are kept spotlessly clean and painted.

On the same complex are five outbuildings, including a furnished prairie home, a small-scale Lutheran church, a school built by Mennonite families, a firehouse, and a newspaper shop. (Garner Allen, a newspaperman himself, helped the museum from the start, telling potential contributors how valuable their personal treasures would be to the museum.)

Docents give their time to show individuals and groups about the museum. Only three staff members are on salary.

One of the more interesting rooms is the waterfowl exhibit, complete with a film on all of the waterfowl that are attracted to rice fields reflooded at the end of the season by some rice and soybean growers.

Stuttgart is only a short drive from most areas of the Mid-South. A trip might inspire other communities to round up and preserve some of the old double shovels and one-row cotton pickers that are rusting away in sheds and open fields.

Hours for the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays. Peacock can be reached by phone at 870-673-7001, or by fax at 870-673-3959.

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