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Arkansas Historic Sites: Connect with the Past
Travel from ancient America to the frontier era, past the Civil War and into the 20th century at Arkansas’ landmark historic sites. East of Little Rock, you can see mounds built by early Native American cultures at Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park and Parkin Archaeological State Park.
Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park marks the initial point of the Louisiana Purchase. Fort Smith offers an inside look at a military fort from the 1800s. Visit the location of the first European settlement on the lower Mississippi at the Arkansas Post, which was also the site of a fierce battle in the Civil War. Numerous Civil War battles were fought in Arkansas, and the landscape still bears the scars with battlefields, memorials, and museums littered across the state.
The largest battle fought west of the Mississippi River happened at Pea Ridge National Military Park near Bentonville. Drive the state’s Civil War trails to explore battle sites in Little Rock, the Ozarks, and the Delta regions. In modern history, Arkansas’s landmark moment came during the Civil Rights Movement in 1957 at the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site. Nearby, the Clinton Presidential Library showcases the legacy of America’s 42nd President.
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Site of the Little Rock Integration Crisis
Set in central Little Rock, the Central High National Historic Site is the location of the Little Rock Integration Crisis. The legendary Little Rock Nine – a group of African-American high school students – were admitted to Central High in 1957 in an effort to end segregation in schools.
In 1998, Little Rock Central High was designated as a National Historic Site, and is still an operating high school to this day. This famed historic site welcomes over 40,000 annual visitors, both visitors to and residents of the Little Rock metropolitan area.
Make your way to the Central High National Historic Site visitor center, complete with a permanent exhibit on the crisis, a bookstore, a commemorative garden, and on-hand park rangers. Don’t miss the historic gas station across from the site – preserved to look as it did in 1957.
Central High National Historic Site sits just east of the Little Rock National Airport, and near many Best Western hotels in Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Jacksonville.
Delta Cultural Center
Open Tuesday through Saturday, the Delta Cultural Center is located in Historic Downtown West Helena – right along the Mississippi River Delta. A member of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the DCC acts to preserve Arkansas Delta heritage with exhibits, events, and educational programs.
Free of admission, the DCC consists of three areas: the Train Depot, the Visitors Center, and the Moore-Hornor House. The DCC hosts the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival each October, and King Biscuit Time blues radio – the country’s oldest blues program.
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Siter
A touchpoint of the American Civil Rights Movement, this high school was the site of the Little Rock Integration Crisis. In 1957, nine African-American students were admitted in an effort to force school desegregation after initially being blocked by the Arkansas National Guard. It was a historic event in the Civil Rights Movement and in the desegregation of public schools.
Still a functioning high school, the National Historic Site is only accessible via hour-long, ranger-guided tours (available by reservation only). Guests can also explore the visitor center’s bookstore, an orientation film, and exhibits on the 1957 Desegregation Crisis. Nearby you can see a preserved, 1950s-era Mobile gas station and reflect on the history of the site in the Central High Commemorative Garden.
Constructed in 1980, the Thorncrown Chapel is a church located in Eureka Springs. The church is uniquely constructed completely from wood native to the Ozark forests of northern Arkansas. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the chapel is a hit among Arkansas travelers for its almost exclusively wood and glass architecture. Take a tour, sit in on a service, or simply enjoy the natural beauty surrounding the chapel.
Fort Smith and Van Buren
Immerse yourself in frontier-era history at the Ozark cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren. Overlooking the Arkansas River, Fort Smith National Historic Site was functioning military base from 1817-1871 and a major stop on the Trail of Tears. See unique landmarks including a restored military warehouse, courtroom, and gallows.
The city of Fort Smith features numerous historical attractions, including a 1920s soda fountain, Fort Smith National Cemetery, and Fort Smith Museum of History. Nearby Van Buren is home to an old-fashioned Main Street with one-of-a-kind restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops. Watch live shows at the King Opera House (built in 1880) and find exciting nightlife on Garrison Avenue.
Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
Discover where William Jefferson Clinton began his path to the American presidency at this quaint home museum in southern Arkansas. Located in the town of Hope, the site was the home of America’s 42nd President until the age of four. It is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1917, this home and its neighboring visitor center feature exhibits on Clinton’s early life and the city of Hope. Guided tours of the Clinton Birthplace Home are offered to visitors every 30 minutes. Kiosks are also placed throughout the park with photos and information on Clinton upbringing and presidency. Be sure to visit the bookstore and the Virginia Clinton Kelley Memorial Garden while you’re there.