Marking the location of the first European settlement in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the Arkansas Post, once known as the Poste de Arkansea, was established by French colonists in 1686. At that time, the area was inhabited by the Quapaw people, with whom the French settlers interacted and traded. During the Civil War, Confederate forces built an earthwork fortification at the Post, subsequently destroyed by invading Union forces in 1863.
The U.S. Army established Fort Smith in 1817, initially as a base from which to monitor Cherokee and Osage activities in the region. Although the Army abandoned the fort in 1824, it was rebuilt nearby in 1838. A court was subsequently established here, overseeing the hanging of 86 men in the later 19th century. Visitors can learn about the fort’s history and its role in the forced relocations known as the Trail of Tears.
Now incorporated into a park in the east of Camden, Fort Southerland comprises a range of earthworks erected by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Both Confederate troops and enslaved African American labourers were responsible for building the fortifications in 1864. The fort was designed to help defend the Confederate-held city from advancing Union forces. The earthworks now constitute part of the Camden Expedition Sites National Historic Landmark.
At the Historic Washington State Park in Hempstead County visitors can encounter over fifty historic buildings preserved from the town of Washington, one of the early pioneering settlements along the Southwest Trail. Washington was a major stop-off on the route to Texas and during the Civil War served as the replacement state capital. Among the buildings on display are various residences, a courthouse, a church, and the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum.
The Jacob Wolf House in Norfork was built in 1825. Its creator, Jacob Wolf, was the first documented European American settler in the area. He built it to serve as a permanent courthouse for Izard County, and it remains a rare example of a surviving building from this period designed for a civic function. The house is timber built in the area’s dog-trot style. The Department of Arkansas Heritage now maintain the site.
Standing on the state capitol building’s northern side, the Little Rock Nine Monument commemorates the momentous events in 1957 when nine African American students first entered Little Rock Central High School. Coming shortly after the Supreme Court declared segregation in schools to be unconstitutional, the act generated widespread anger among pro-segregationists, requiring the deployment of the National Guard. Marking a seminal event in U.S. race relations, the monument depicts all nine students.
Parkin Archeological State Park marks the location of a prehistoric settlement inhabited between the 11th and 16th centuries. Archaeologists refer to the people who built and dwelled in this settlement as members of the Mississippian culture. These people were mound builders, and one of the park’s most prominent features is the Parkin Indian Mound. A visitor’s centre can also be found on site, showcasing various artefacts recovered through excavation.
The Pea Ridge National Military Park preserves the location in which the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought in March 1862. An important event in the American Civil War, the battle resulted in a Union victory over the Confederacy, securing the former’s control over neighbouring Missouri. The site also preserves several historic buildings and features a visitor’s centre where one can learn more about the battle and its place in the Civil War.
After Japan attacked the U.S. and the two nations became embroiled in the Second World War, the U.S. government ordered the mass internment of Japanese Americans, believing that some may have divided loyalties. One of the internment camps was at Rohwer in Arkansas. Although much of the camp has been dismantled, information boards help to remind visitors of what once occurred here, and a memorial cemetery commemorates those who died during internment.
The Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park preserves a complex of 18 earthen mounds standing on the banks of Mound Lake: the largest group in Arkansas. Archaeologists attribute these mounds to members of the Plum Bayou Culture, who lived nearby between the seventh and eleventh centuries. The site’s name comes from an erroneous 19th century belief that the mounds were built by the Toltecs of Mexico. A visitor’s centre is within the park.
At this state park in Mississippi County, visitors can explore the Hampson Archeological Museum, which houses a range of artefacts recovered from the excavation of the Nodena Site. The Nodena Site represented a palisaded settlement inhabited between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries by an indigenous agricultural community. The museum also houses the skeleton of a prehistoric mastodon, a species related to modern elephants, that was recovered from the area. Entry is free.
Located in the city of Helena, this library and museum occupies a building constructed in 1891. The Women’s Library Association financed construction and later expansion, using it as both a library and a museum – making it the oldest purpose-built museum in the state. Today, its collection includes a range of artefacts reflecting Arkansas heritage, and according to local folklore is haunted by the ghost of Maybelle Thatcher. Entry is free.
The Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock opened in 1941 although only became a full museum in the 1970s. It preserves several historic buildings in situ and complements these with log-built structures moved here from other areas of Arkansas. Among its features are a pre-Civil War style neighbourhood and galleries displaying art and artefacts from the state. Re-enactors dressed in period costume help to welcome visitors and immerse them in the heritage experience.
When the U.S. went to war against Japan during the Second World War, the government ordered the internment of many Japanese Americans in camps, fearing some were potential spies or saboteurs. Learn more about the experiences of those who were imprisoned due to their ethnicity at this museum, located near to the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center site. Opened in 2013, the museum occupies a building in the McGehee Railroad Depot.
The Klipsch Museum of Audio History in Hope focuses its visitors’ attention on Paul W. Klipsch, an engineer responsible for making significant improvements to audio technology. Among his many developments was the corner horn loudspeaker. Located near to the old factory where Klipsch’s company manufactured its speakers, the museum showcases a broad range of audio equipment associated with Klipsch. Audio enthusiasts should not miss this museum! Entry is free.
Focusing on the role of the U.S. military in the state of Arkansas, the MacArthur Museum occupies the Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal. It was here that General Douglas MacArthur – a key figure in the Second World War – was born, giving the museum its name. Displays use weaponry, uniforms, and other memorabilia to tell the social history of the men and women who have served in the armed forces. Entry is free.
At the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, visitors can explore 14,000 years of the past. Beginning with the earliest evidence for human habitation in North America, during the Paleo period, and stretching through to recent decades, it brings together a range of displays featuring archaeological material from various parts of the continent. Opened in 2006 and based at this purpose-built premises since 2008, the museum is open for free.
Based in Little Rock, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center focuses attention on the African American heritage of Arkansas. The Mosaic Templars of America were a fraternal order founded in the city in 1883, and although they disbanded in the 20th century their legacy lives on in the name of this new museum, opened in 2008. Through exhibits like the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, it seeks to foreground black achievement in the state.
Showcasing the heritage of the Ozarks, the Ozark Folk Center State Park is home to a Craft Village where over 20 artisans engage in traditional craft activities. A Heritage Herb Garden also stands on the site, growing plants that have long been known and used in the Ozarks. The Center is also active in preserving and perpetuating the region’s cultural heritage, hosting traditional music performances throughout the year.
Devoted to the history of the northwest Arkansas Ozarks, this museum in Springdale first opened in 1968 although has expanded significantly since then. Featuring artefacts testifying to both Native and migrant communities in the Ozarks, it includes one of the largest collections of historic photographs in the state. In the museum grounds are preserved a range of historic buildings from around the area, many dating from the latter half of the 19th century.