November 13-14, 2018
Arkansas Post Museum
John went to this one on his own while Holly huddled in a heated camper with a head cold. (Too cold, not going! Such a wimp – but a warm, happy wimp.)
For those of you who know me (John) or have followed our blog, you know I can spend hours wandering through a museum and around a historic site. I was done with this one in about an hour. That’s how small it was.
This tiny museum, Arkansas’s first county museum, was a little strange with an “eclectic” collection of buildings and exhibits.
You enter the complex through the main house where you will find the visitor center, gift shop and one room containing a somewhat odd collection of artifacts including this ancient Edison phonograph. There was no information about the item, who owned it, or why it was there. That turned out to be the rule rather than the exception.
Other buildings on the site included the summer kitchen (closed for restoration), Refeld-Hinman log house, and the Peterson building which housed most of the museum’s collection. Several other buildings were park offices and not open to the public.
The Renfeld-Hinman log house is a dogtrot cabin with two rooms separated by a 12-foot wide breezeway. The cabin was occupied from 1877, when it was built, until 1906. This home represents one of the few remaining examples of late 1800s “vernacular residential architecture” in southeast Arkansas.
The Peterson building is a modern red metal-sided building. Inside was a collection of military uniforms, a small post office/general store, a still, farm equipment and tools, toys, medical equipment, and a child’s playhouse.
There was also had a small plot of Arkansas Grand Prairie grasses. At one time this prairie covered 400,000 acres. After it was cleared for rice production, there were 430 acres left. They are hoping seeds from this plot can be used to expand their prairie restoration efforts.
A final exhibit was a gallows. Yup, a gallows. Between 1820 and 1913 Arkansas’s method of execution was death by hanging. The wooden portion of the gallows was a reconstruction but the iron components (trap door, release mechanism, etc.) are originals. Creepy but kind of interesting.
Arkansas Post National Memorial
We’ll start by saying that that this is a very nice little park with a visitor/interpretive center and a very friendly, helpful Ranger. They have two films, one for Arkansas Post and one for The Trail of Tears. Both were very good. Although we enjoyed our visit, the site is pretty far out of the way and other than the visitor center, it is comprised of a large grassy area with sidewalks laid out where the town’s streets would have been. All there is to see is grass, trees, a few signs, a cistern and a well. Fort Hindman, built during the Civil War to protect Arkansas Post, is now under water because the Arkansas River shifted as it tends to do.
It snowed the night before we visited Arkansas Post. It snowed while we were driving to Arkansas Post. It snowed while we were at Arkansas Post. It doesn’t snow at Arkansas Post in November. Lucky us.
Fortunately this history geek had a lovely assistant who graciously brushed the snow off the signs so I could photograph and read them. I’m a very dedicated history geek. Neither wind, nor sleet or snow…
Arkansas Post was not a single fort and trading center. From 1686 to 1863 there were no fewer than seven posts and the flags of five nations flew over them at one time or another – French House of Bourbon, Castilian Spain, Republican France, United States, and Confederacy. The first Arkansas Post founded in 1686 was the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi, predating New Orleans founding by 32 years.
The site of the park was where the final Arkansas Post was located. It was the original capital of the Arkansas Territory from 1819 to 1821 when the capital was shifted to Little Rock. The town became such an important trade center in the 1820s and 1830s that its population grew to about 1,000. The town began to fade during the Civil War when Union gunboats blockaded the mouth of the Arkansas River. The town was also bombarded and seriously damaged by Union gunboats during the battle of Arkansas Post in January 1863. After the war, railroads and highways bypassed Arkansas Post. The shifting Arkansas River also washed away part of the town site.
Sadly, there’s nothing left of the town except sidewalks marking where the streets had been and a few signs marking the locations of some of the major buildings. I would have loved to have seen and walked through the Arkansas State Bank, Colonel Frederic Notrebe’s residence, store, warehouse, cotton gin, and cotton press, Montgomery’s Tavern, and the Trading Factory.
Holly’s side note: Google Maps ROCKS! I was wondering about the shifting Arkansas River that took out part of the town and totally rolled over the fort so I pulled it up on Google Maps. You can see the different oxbow lakes that have been left as the river shifted. Now scroll over to where the Arkansas meets the Mississippi. BOTH rivers were swooping back and forth for centuries. It’s cool to see the tracks they left. Now focus on the state boundary lines which were originally drawn along the Mississippi River. When the river shifts, the state lines don’t so some land winds up “moving” from the east side of the river to the west and vice versa.