Looking for a little history to round out your Arkansas adventures? Oh, we’ve got history. We’ve got history from the delta to the Ozarks, and from the muddy Mississippi to the border towns on the banks of the Arkansas. We’ve selected nine must-go places for the budding Arkansas historian.
1. Central High School (Little Rock)
Home to the infamous 1957 standoff between the Arkansas National Guard, Governor Orval Faubus, and nine young people who only wanted to go to school but needed federal troops to escort them in, this high school is now both a functioning high school and a National Historic Site.
Bonus: While you’re in town, check out the Little Rock Nine Monument.
The memorial is located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol and includes comments from each of the nine students who faced persecution on their way to school that day.
2. Fort Smith National Historic Site (Fort Smith)
Fort Smith’s long history and position on the border of Indian Territory leaves a national historic site with a lot of cool stuff to see. Tasked with bringing law to the lawless lands that we now call Oklahoma, Fort Smith had its own hanging judge and group of plucky U.S. Marshals. The honorable Isaac C. Parker condemned many men to die. Visitors can see a reproduction of the court where he passed his sentences, and even the gallows where those sentences were carried out.
Bonus: You can also find the foundations of the original fort in Fort Smith, which date back to 1818.
3. Arkansas Post (Arkansas Post)
Arkansas Post was Arkansas’s first European settlement. It was formed as a fur trading post in 1686 by French soldier Henri de Tonti. This location is now preserved as a National Memorial. In 1863, the location was the site of a Civil War battle. Confederate trenches can still be found at the park. The long history of this location, from settlement to Civil War era, is interpreted at the park.
Bonus: Arkansas Post is in a gorgeous spot for hiking around, learning about history. Check out this bayou.
4. Bathhouse Row Historic District (Hot Springs)
Hot Springs is a hot spot—for water and for history. Though the hot springs located there had been a draw forever, things really picked up with the addition of the beautiful bathhouses, some of which are located directly above the therapeutic springs. Though they fell out of popularity and therefore out of repair, eight bathhouses are currently up and running again, better than ever and still rooted in tradition.
Bonus: Hot Springs was also an illegal gambling hub, and a popular destination for infamous 1930s gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran. You can find interesting tidbits about this part of Hot Springs history at the Gangster Museum of America.
5. Parkin Archeological State Park (Parkin)
Parkin Indian Mound has been an object of interest since the journey of Hernando DeSoto. It came to interest a Harvard Professor in 1879 and has been a steady site for the exploration of late Mississippian culture since then.
Bonus: The museum at the site has artifacts dating from 1350-1650 A.D. How cool is that?!
6. Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park (Scott)
The 18 Toltec mounds are the tallest prehistoric mounds in Arkansas. The original inhabitants lived in the area from 600 and 1050 C.E. The discovery of the mounds was made by Mrs. Gilbert Knapp, the property owner. A historian from the Smithsonian took interest in 1883, and it’s remained interesting to archaeologists and lay historians alike.
Bonus: The mounds are located on Mound Lake, which is a nice spot on its own.
7. Louisiana Purchase State Park (Blackton)
Here visitors can find beginning point of the Louisiana Purchase Survey, which began in 1815. The marker was laid in 1926, and though flooding makes the visit a bit challenging, there is a boardwalk visitors can use to see the marker.
Bonus: That boardwalk is actually really cool.
8. Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery (Rohwer)
One of only three remaining Japanese American relocation cemeteries, this national memorial cemetery is all that remains of the Rohwer Relocation Center. Japanese Americans were held at this facility from 1942 to 1945, during the second World War. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1992.
Bonus: It’s located in this copse of trees, which seems to add to the somber atmosphere.
9. Pea Ridge National Military Park (Pea Ridge)
Preserving the history of the civil war battle of Pea Ridge, fought in 1862, Pea Ridge National Military Park was formed in 1956. The formation of the park was considered a win for those trying to preserve civil war history. Long before it was a federally protected park though, war buddies from both sides of the conflict used it as a reunion spot. The first of these reunions was held in 1887.