Historic Washington State Park

Historic Washington State Park
Entrance sign off United States Highway 278 at Historic Washington State Park

Historic Washington State Park is a museum village located off United States Highway 278 in Washington, Arkansas.[1] The state park opened in 1973 as Old Washington Historic State Park but was renamed in September 2006. It offers visitors walking guided tours which interpret the history of this pioneer settlement, originally on the Southwest Trail, also known as the Old Military Road. Historic Washington, one of 52 state parks operated by the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission, contains 54 buildings on 101 acres (41 ha). Thirty of the buildings are historically significant.[2]

During the 1820s and 1830s, Washington was a stopover for travelers going to Texas. It was originally the county seat of Hempstead County until a new courthouse was completed in Hope, which was designated the seat of government in 1939. The park emphasizes regional 19th century history from 1824 to 1889.[3] It is located in southwestern Arkansas east of Texarkana and near the entrance to Interstate 30.33°46′37″N 93°40′41″W / 33.776863222°N 93.6780579741°W / 33.776863222; -93.6780579741 (Confederate State Capitol)


History of Old Washington

The Southwest Trail ran from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Red River port of Fulton in Hempstead County some twelve miles from Washington. At the time, the Red River was the border between the United States and Mexico. The trail was a route taken by people headed to Mexican Texas. William B. Travis, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett each separately traveled through Washington on their way to Texas. In the early 1830s until the 1840s, bands of Cherokee and Choctaw travelled through Old Washington on their way to Indian Territory under the Indian removal policies of U.S. President Andrew Jackson. In 1846, Washington was a mustering point for Arkansas troops marching south to fight under General Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War.[2]

On February 14, 1820, Washington was authorized for a post office. That facility remains the oldest continuous postal operation west of the Mississippi River. A new postal building was dedicated on May 29, 1988, by then U.S. Senator David Hampton Pryor.[4] Washington became a town on George Washington's birthday, February 22, 1824.[5]

From 1863-1865, Old Washington was the site of the Confederate capitol of Arkansas after the fall of Little Rock to Union forces. The original Arkansas Confederate capital, where the refugee government fled, still exists in the park. It is a part of the Camden Expedition Sites, named in part for the town of Camden, Arkansas, in southern Arkansas.

In the early 1864, Washington was threatened by Union forces under the command of Major General Frederick Steele which moved south along the Military Road en route to Shreveport, Louisiana. A Confederate force under the command of Major General Sterling Price blocked Steele's army. The two forces engaged in battle on April 10, 1864, some fourteen miles north of Washington. Steele was forced to move east to Camden, a movement which spared Washington from invasion. This encounter was known as the skirmish at Prairie D'Ane. Many wounded soldiers were brought to Washington for medical treatment. Several buildings, including the Washington Baptist Church, were turned into hospitals to treat the wounded. Seventy-four unknown Confederate soldiers from this battle were buried in a mass grave in the Washington Presbyterian Cemetery.[2]

This Methodist Church at Historic Washington State Park is the oldest church of that denomination in Arkansas.

In the early 1870s, the Cairo and Fulton Railroad built a line through southwest Arkansas which bypassed Washington. Instead the depot was nine miles away and became the origin of the city of Hope, incorporated on April 8, 1875. Fire swept through Washington on July 3, 1875 and destroyed much of the business district. A second fire occurred on January 21, 1883. Most of the businesses in Washington relocated to Hope, which proposed that it supersede Washington as the county seat. Several fraudulent elections were held over the matter. The Arkansas Supreme Court intervened and, in a ruling in May 1939, declared Hope the county seat.[2]

In 1958, the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation began preserving the unique buildings and sites that currently lie within the park. The park was established in 1965 and opened eight years later. The Southwest Regional Archives was established there in 1978. Since that time, more than 200,000 artifacts related to 19th century life have been recovered in the park and is the site of ongoing archaeological research on small-town life.

The historic buildings provide excellent examples of the architectural styles popular in the 19th century American South. Examples on display are Southern Greek Revival, Federal architecture, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and the rough-hewn timber or brace-frame construction of the frontier.

Visitors follow plank board sidewalks along streets that have never been paved. The largest magnolia tree in Arkansas, planted in 1839, also graces the town. Everything within the original 1824 boundaries of the town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Major buildings

Park tours begin at the previous Hempstead County Courthouse, which was constructed in 1874 and is maintained as the museum headquarters and visitors center. On the top floor, one may meditate in the courtroom where trials and hearings were formerly held. After the county seat was moved to Hope, the 1874 courthouse was used as a school beginning in 1914. A gym was built during the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. Both are still used for meeting rooms and group rental facilities.[2]

  • John Dyer Trimble House – Heirs of John D. Trimble donated their family home and furnishings to the museum in 1978. The artifacts highlight three generations who lived in the house in Hempstead County.
  • Clardy/Goodlet Kitchen – This detached structure is believed to be one of the last original such kitchens in the state.
  • Royston Log House – A demonstration of living in the 1830s-1860s. A guide shows visitors what materials and tools were essential to build a log house during the previous century.
Presbyterian Church at Historic Washington Park has a cemetery with a mass grave of Confederate soldiers.
  • Crouch House – A Greek revival home constructed by Augustus M. Crouch, a jeweler and watchmaker who served in the Mexican War at the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847. This structure was located on museum grounds in 1980 at the site of a similar house which burned in 1903.[3]
  • Washington Print Museum – Interprets printing equipment and techniques from the late 19th century and early 20th century. The print shop is also run by Gary White.
  • 1836 Courthouse - The original Hempstead Courthouse was in 1844 the scene of the first murder trial in Hempstead County. The courthouse was chosen by Governor Harris Flanagin during the Civil War as the Confederate capital of Arkansas. By 1858, Washington had outgrown the courthouse, and a new facility was proposed in 1872. When the second courthouse opened in 1874, the previous structure became the house of the county clerk. In time it was boarded up.[3]

In 1929, the United Daughters of the Confederacy secured state funding to restore the 1836 Hempstead Courthouse. This was the first restoration money ever appropriated by the Arkansas General Assembly. The building now included in Washington Park has paintings of Confederate icons J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Pierre G.T. Beauregard on the walls.[8]

In 1958, a group of Washington citizens formed the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation to preserve the old structures and interpret the history of Washington. They operated tours of some of the historic homes for fifteen years. In 1973, they invited the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to assist in the preservation and interpreation of the village. The foundation donated property, buildings, and antiques, and Old Washington Historic State Park opened as the then thirty-fourth Arkansas state park on July 1, 1973.[2]

  • Block-Catts House – Built by Abraham Block, a merchant in Washington, this home, elegant in its day, is a rare Federal-style structure in southwest Arkansas. Block, an immigrant from Bohemia, had twelve children. Block first came to the port of New Orleans before heading northward. He was the first Jewish settler in Arkansas. His house was the oldest in Washington and the oldest two-story residence in the state. The house had a grand piano and impressive dining hall. Block died in 1857.[3]
  • Blacksmith Shop – The shop was built by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation in 1960 as an interpretation center. It has two working forges. In 1831, James Black, the best known blacksmith in Washington, forged one of the original Bowie knives for the frontiersman James Bowie. The shop was dedicated to the memory of Thomas Hamilton Simms of the Hempstead Rifles.[3]
  • Simon Sanders House and Urban Farmstead – A program entitled "Her Work Is Never Done" presented at the Sanders House is a demonstration of the endless tasks assigned to a household slave during the antebellum years in Washington.[3] Simon Sanders was the father-in-law of Augustus H. Garland, a Hempstead County resident who was Attorney General of the United States during the administration of U.S. President Grover Cleveland.
  • Nashville High School – The restoration of a 1914 school in nearby Nashville was dedicated by the State Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission in June 2003. It is located on the far eastern end of the village. Then Governor Mike Huckabee attended the dedication.[9]

Museum information

The museum address is P.O. Box 129, Washington, AR 71862. Adult admission is $8, and a child's ticket is $4. Those desiring a limited tour of only two buildings pay $5 for adults and $2.75 for children.[10] Surrey rides are available on special occasions. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days per week except New Years Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. The Williams Tavern Restaurant offers country cooking from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Part of the funding for Arkansas state parks such as Washington comes from a .125-cent sales tax allocated for Game/Fish and Parks/Tourism.[3]

The park provides a variety of events for local residents and visitors including demonstrations and workshops on blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, sewing, candlemaking, forging, and harness driving.

Historic Washington offers Civil War weekends and reenactments, the Five Trails Rendezvous (commemorating the origin of five Native American trails in the region) held in February, the annual jonquil festival in March, and a Christmas festival and Victorian era Christmas ball. The park is decorated for Christmas each December.[2]

At Historic Washington, the American Bladesmith Society operates the only bladesmithing college in the United States. The program, affiliated with Texarkana College, claims to be the only school in the world dedicated to the art of making knives and swords.[5]

Restoring Old Washington

Among the leading figures in the restoration of Old Washington was James H. Pilkinton of Hope, who served as president of the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation twice between 1959 and 1990. Others involved in the restoration are Parker O. Westbrook, a former aide to the late U.S. Senator J. W. Fulbright, and Westbrook's sister, Lucille.

Old Washington has been called the "Colonial Williamsburg of the Southwest" or "Colonial Williamsburg of Arkansas", in reference to the Colonial Williamsburg restoration in Virginia which opened in 1957 courtesy of the Rockefeller family.

Washington Collections

Historic Washington houses the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives which is the primary center for historical and genealogical research in the region. The archives contain rare books, court documents, newspapers, census information, photographs, scrapbooks, sheet music, and assorted family histories.[5]


See also


  1. ^ Historic Washington State Park map:http://www.historicwashingtonstatepark.com/maps-and-directions/
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Encyclopedia of Arkansas:http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1169
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Brochure entitled “Programs, Tours, and Activities, Historic Washington State Park, August 7, 2008
  4. ^ Hope Star, Hope, Arkansas, May 30, 1988
  5. ^ a b c Historic Washington State Park overview:http://www.historicwashingtonstatepark.com/
  6. ^ B.W. Edwards exhibit, Historic Washington State Park
  7. ^ Thomas Hamilton Simms exhibit, B.W. Edwards Weapon Museum, Historic Washington State Park, Washington Arkansas
  8. ^ Exhibit at 1836 Courthouse, Historic Washington State Park
  9. ^ Exhibit at Nashville High School restoration in Washington State Park
  10. ^ Washington State Park fee schedule:http://www.stepintohistory.com/states/AR/Old_Washington.htm
  • Kwas, Mary (2009). Digging for History at Old Washington. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-898-4. 

External links

Coordinates: 33°46′26″N 093°41′00″W / 33.77389°N 93.6833333°W / 33.77389; -93.6833333

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