ROLAND, Arkansas — When you think of Little Italy, most people would think of the ones in New York City or Boston, but Arkansans know you can find one in Pulaski County.
On Sunday afternoon the grand opening of a long-awaited museum brought history back to life. The plot of land that the museum is on is the heart of Little Italy, Arkansas because it is where all the original homesteads were built over one hundred years ago.
Descendants of those original families, like Kristy Eanes and Butch Penney, said it is Arkansas's "best-kept secret." "We're coming home. This museum is a celebration of family and it tells a story about the close family connections and how important family is and getting started in life," Eanes said.
Chris Dorer, Chief Museum Curator, said it is a place to honor those who came before. "The community has this museum not because they need it, but because their story is so important that it needs to be told," he said.
For cousins Eanes and Penney, it is a place to tell their family's story. "My great grandfather founded Alta Villa, Joseph Belotti," Eanes said. Dorer said the opening of the Little Italy Heritage Museum brings life to a pivotal part of Arkansas's state history.
"It's a place where all of the families of Little Italy can come back, they can celebrate their heritage, they can share their heritage and culture and history with people," he said.
It took 20 years to gather oral histories, photographs and create the storyline.
Eanes said it is educating everyone on what life was like back then. "For the generations now to see how hard it was back then to survive. It was survival. Today it's not like that," she said.
While the sound of music traveled through the walls on Sunday afternoon, so did family memories.
Eanes said she is humbled and honored that people will be able to learn about her family's history. "They are not collecting dust on the shelf, they're out educating the public," she said.
On Sunday afternoon a place to honor those who came before us and a place to tell family's stories opened its doors. "This is Arkansas' Little Italy and it's here for everyone and I hope that people will drive out here, it's worth the drive, to see this part of Arkansas history," Eanes said.
The museum will be open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. You can also schedule an appointment with the museum for private tours.