When Winthrop Rockefeller started the Museum of Automobiles in October 1964, the now late governor of Arkansas could not have imagined, it would still be providing entertainment and education to so many 60 years later. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

Conway County, Ark., museum boasts a look at history through automobiles 

When Winthrop Rockefeller started the Museum of Automobiles in October 1964, the now late governor of Arkansas could not have imagined, it would still be providing entertainment and education to so many 60 years later. 

Located in central Arkansas on Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County, the museum boasts 50 different vehicles, dating from 1904 to their 1981 DeLorean, a unique automobile that had only one owner and has just 1,277 miles on it.

Beula Ivy is the museum’s director and is enthusiastic about the unique experiences offered by their museum. 

“We are a family-oriented place,” she explained. “We host lots of events each year and offer something for all sorts of groups, not just car clubs. We welcome class trips, church groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as folks on vacation.

“We host several events throughout the year. In May, we have our Ponies on Petit Jean Mountain Show, featuring Mustangs and an all Ford show. We also have a Corvette show, dedicated to the memory of Sam Salter, with a donation table to benefit the Leukemia Society. Our biggest show and swap meet of the year is during Father’s Day week and will be June 12-15 this year. It will include two car shows, both on Saturday, one for all original cars and another featuring modified vehicles. We also will have our 66th annual swap meet which will include parts and pieces of vehicles of all kinds and sizes as well as a full vehicle, if that’s what somebody brings to sell. The museum also sponsors a huge swap meet that features arts and crafts, anything homemade, even honey, just about everything except live animals. We have hundreds of vendor spaces available and nine different food vendors here as well.”

Even on a “normal day” at the museum, the show room is filled with automotive memorabilia. 

Contributed Photo

“Some of our more unique vehicles include a car once owned by Elvis and another owned by President John Kennedy, which I understand he once used to elude the Secret Service for several hours at one point. I don’t believe Elvis drove the car we have that belonged to him, a great deal,” Beula said. “Of course, we know he owned a number of cars and this one was driven primarily by his father and his uncle. We also have a 1923 Climber, which is a touring car. It has the distinction of being the only automobile that was ever manufactured in the state of Arkansas. There are only two of them still known to exist and we, the museum own them both. One of them is on our showroom floor.” 

There are also some obscure vehicles on display. 

 “In the early years of automobiles, there were a great many different companies making cars and some like the Climber company did not last very long,” Beula added. “Others we still see today and they have become the big automakers like Ford, GM, and Chevrolet, but there were many smaller companies in the early years. Climber was one of them.”

Others, like DeSoto, also long gone, are represented in the Arkansas museum, polished to an incredible shine as they represent the long history of the industry, now more than a century old. 

“The oldest car in our collection is a 1904 Oldsmobile. We also have a 1908 automobile, built by Sears, not a company we think of today as a car maker,” Beula said. “But then, at one time or another, I think you could mail order just about anything from a car to a house from the Sears company.”

The museum also offers a look at a few very specialized vehicles from the past. 

“We have a 1914 Cretor’s popcorn vehicle which was actually used by Governor Rockefeller in his political campaign. There are only three known to be in existence, one of which sold several years ago at auction for $400,000,” Beula explained. “Everything on it is handmade.”

Beula came to her position as director of the museum after a 24-year career as a postal carrier. 

“My husband, Melvin Ivy, is a real car person and on the board of directors here and we are in a car club. The previous director was ready to retire due to health concerns so it was one of those things that just fell into place,” she recalled. 

When Winthrop Rockefeller had the half-acre museum constructed, the building itself drew as much attention as the automobile collection it would house. He required it to be built with no interior pillars for support, quite a feat for the era as it was the largest tensile cable construction in Arkansas at that time. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The auto collection inside includes Rockefeller’s 1951 Cadillac which he drove to Arkansas in 1953 when he decided to make the state his new home and a 1967 Cadillac which sports a sterling-silver Santa Gertrudis hood ornament. 

Today, the museum is also the home of the Mid-America Old Time Automobile Association (MOTAA), the sponsor of the annual June car shows.

The Museum of Automobiles offers exhibits as well as individual vehicles and is open every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, from 10 am to 5 pm.


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