The museum was established in 1910 as the Old Commissary Museum with the purpose of saving the city’s oldest building from demolition, the Commissary from the second Fort Smith. The building is now restored and a part of the Fort Smith National Historic Site. With that goal complete, the Fort Smith Museum of History strives to preserve approximately 40,000 artifacts chronicling the city's and surrounding region's history, as well as care for the Atkinson-Williams Warehouse, which houses the museum. Constructed in 1906 for Atkinson-Williams Hardware, Williams Hardware and Speer Hardware later occupied the structure. The Fort Smith Museum of History has occupied the structure since 1979. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Long term exhibits include the first floor timeline that carries visitors through growth and development of the city that grew around the 1817 military fort. The William O. Darby Memorial Room tells the story of the founder of Darby’s Rangers in World War II, today’s Army Rangers. William Orlando Darby was born in Fort Smith in 1910, graduated from Fort Smith High School and attended West Point.
The Boyd Gallery offers temporary exhibitions utilizing the museum’s vast artifact collection, as well as traveling exhibitions.
The second floor offers the popular 1998 exhibition In the Shadow of the Gallows, which includes furnishings from the 6th Street court of Judge Isaac C. Parker; On the Air, an exhibit featuring the history of radio and television broadcast in Fort Smith and the region; an excellent collection of 19th century woodworking tools; and a depiction of the well-known Goldman Hotel in downtown Fort Smith.