Delta Gateway Museum

aka: Kress Building

Delta Gateway Museum (DGM) in Blytheville (Mississippi County) aims to tell the story of Blytheville and the surrounding area by interpreting the land and its impact on the people. The museum collects and exhibits historical materials that relate to the region encompassing northeastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, and the Arkansas Delta, emphasizing cultural development.

DGM is housed in the historic Kress Building in the heart of the Blytheville Commercial Historic District. Constructed in 1938 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 13, 1997, the Kress Building is widely acknowledged as the best example of Art Deco architecture in the area. S. H. Kress & Co. operated a chain of five-and-dime department stores across the United States, with the first store opening in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1896. The Kress Building was one of the first buildings in the area to feature steel I-beams in the masonry construction, and it was the first local retail establishment to be fully air conditioned. “Kresses,” as it was known to local residents, served the greater Blytheville area until it closed by 1974. The building later housed the United Way and Main Street Blytheville.

Delta Gateway Museum opened to the public in November 2011. The museum facility is overseen by the DGM Commission, an independent agency created by city ordinance in 2007 for the sole purpose of helping to establish a museum. The commission is responsible for managing the facility’s annual expense budget provided by the City of Blytheville, formulating policy, raising funds, supervising the upkeep of the Kress Building (now owned by the city), and hiring professional staff to manage day-to-day operations.

In 2009, organizers received federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the museum. Incorporated under Arkansas state law as a nonprofit organization, DGM is governed by a volunteer board of directors. The board is responsible for fundraising, exhibit development, collections acquisition and care, educational programming, and the management of donated funds.

DGM uses temporary exhibits to explore broad historical themes in one of the world’s most fertile agricultural regions. Visitors learn about sixteenth-century Spanish exploration in the region and the Native American culture and settlements these explorers encountered. Hands-on exhibits focus on topics such as a series of powerful earthquakes along the New Madrid fault line in the winter of 1811–12, the workings and products of the local steel industry, and agricultural progress through the years. Photographic exhibits illustrate local lifeways in the early twentieth century. A Blytheville Air Force Base exhibit highlights the historical significance of the base and illustrates change to the local landscape over time. The museum also hosts professional art exhibitions, children’s art shows, and traveling exhibits.

Planning is under way for permanent exhibits on prehistoric and historic Native American cultures; the importance of the timber industry and swamp drainage to regional settlement and growth; the development and expansion of agriculture; the historical effects and continuing threat of earthquakes and flooding; the regional impact of the air force base and steel industry; and the historical significance of river, rail, and highway transportation.

DGM currently uses 8,000 square feet of exhibition, collections storage, and administrative space. As funding becomes available for additional building rehabilitation, the museum’s usable space will eventually increase to roughly 22,000 square feet.

For additional information:
Delta Gateway Museum. http://deltagatewaymuseum.weebly.com/ (accessed July 7, 2014).

“Delta Gateway Museum.” City of Blytheville. http://www.blytheville.co/departments/parks-and-recreation/delta-gateway-museum/ (accessed July 7, 2014).

Hilton, Donna. “Kress Project Moves Ahead.” Blytheville Courier News. April 17, 2009, pp. 1, 2.

“Kress Building.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/MS0034.nr.pdf (accessed May 20, 2015).

“The Kress Legacy.” Kress Foundation. http://www.kressfoundation.org/about/legacy.aspx?id=82 (accessed July 7, 2014).

Leslie Hester
Delta Gateway Museum

Last Updated: 01/13/2017