Museum of Automobiles
The Museum of Automobiles is located atop Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County. This museum is primarily dedicated to the exhibition of quality antique and vintage automobiles, as well as related items for the cultural and educational benefit of the general public. Additional exhibits include an antique gun collection, a display of Arkansas license plates, and a player piano.
When Winthrop Rockefeller made Arkansas his home in 1953, he developed Winrock Farms on Petit Jean Mountain. In 1961, he purchased a collection of fine antique and classic cars from the James Melton museum of Hypoluxo, Florida. He had a building constructed on Petit Jean Mountain to house the cars and named it the Museum of Automobiles. He opened the museum on October 18, 1964, with thirty-three cars on display, some of them his own, along with others from the Rockefeller family.
Rockefeller died on February 22, 1973, after serving two terms as governor. On March 4, 1973, over 4,000 people gathered at the museum for a memorial service in his honor. The museum was closed in the fall of 1975, and the remaining cars, with the exception of the governor’s personal vehicles, were sold to Harrah’s Museum in Reno, Nevada. The 1951 Cadillac that Rockefeller drove to Arkansas when he made the state his home, his 1967 Cadillac limousine with a Santa Gertrudis bull sterling-silver hood ornament, and his 1914 Cretors popcorn wagon all remain in the present museum collection.
On June 6, 1976, the museum was reopened by ten men, all Arkansans and antique car buffs; on June 16, 1976, they formed a nonprofit organization that leased the building from the state of Arkansas. This group became the board of directors, which manages the museum. Members of surrounding antique car clubs lent thirty-three of their fine cars for a new collection to exhibit at the museum. Herman “Buddy” Hoelzeman, who had previously served as director of the museum under Rockefeller, was again appointed director.
The museum is a magnificent building that is handicapped accessible. The roof, suspended by cables, provides an unobstructed view across the entire interior. Water fountains gracing the front of the building blend with the natural surroundings. The automobiles rest on a white graveled floor surrounded by carpeted isles. A placard by each car gives a precise history of that vehicle. Other items help re-create the time period of the vintage cars, such as facsimiles of sequenced Burma-Shave road signs and a player piano that plays old-time tunes for two quarters.
The museum now has forty-eight cars and seven motorcycles on display. Showpieces, in addition to the three Rockefeller vehicles, include: a 1904 Oldsmobile; a rare 1923 Climber phaeton, which was manufactured in Little Rock (Pulaski County); an unusual 1929 Ford Town Car; a 1963 Lincoln convertible owned by President John F. Kennedy; a 1967 Mustang convertible owned by President Bill Clinton, which he drove while he was governor; and a 1967 Ranchero pick-up truck owned by Elvis Presley.
The museum is supported by admissions, souvenir sales, two annual car show/swap meets, and donations of cash and assets. An endowment fund was established by the board of directors to ensure its long-term future.
For additional information:
Museum of Automobiles. http://www.museumofautos.com (accessed August 31, 2023).
Young M. Orsburn
North Little Rock, Arkansas
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