Here you'll discover the role of Arkansas's White River, with emphasis on the Lower White, as one of the vital transportation routes for the first settlers who arrived in the Arkansas frontier. Museum exhibits interpret the river's influence on settlements during the steamboat era, illustrating the expansion of commerce from its roots in hunting and fishing into shelling, timber, and agriculture.
As you enter the museum, you'll be greeted by life-sized figures of Captain James C. McManus, Miss Sallie Davis, a schoolteacher from Memphis, surveyor John Garretson, and Henry, a slave. The characters introduce themselves via audio using dialog taken from oral history records and slave narratives.
Backdrop for the mannequins is a 12-foot, 8-inch by 7-foot, 4-inch pen and ink mural by Little Rock artist Richard DeSpain based on a historical photograph. Pictured is the J.A. Woodson steamboat in the late 1890s docking at Cook's Landing near Oil Trough on the White River waiting to be loaded with cotton from Colonel V. Y. Cook's plantation.
The rest of the museum's exhibit space depicts eight areas of importance to the territory during its frontier days: agriculture, Civil War, pearling and button-making, timber, education, fishing and hunting, medicine and riverboats. Exhibits and text explain how each of these topics helped mold the community of Des Arc and the lower White River region.
An enclosed display case houses local historic items that will change on a regular basis.
An interactive display for young museum visitors features an 8-foot by 12 1/2-foot map of Arkansas with the Arkansas and White Rivers highlighted on it. Red dots show where towns are located along the Lower White.
Over 1,000-square-feet were recently added to the original building to now allow for barrier-free access by museum visitors.
A new research room features archival materials, such as cemetery records, tax exemption receipts for cotton, old newspapers, estate papers and other historical artifacts, which can be accessed for family history and genealogical research.
A small gift shop offers small items related to the museum, including postcards bearing pen and ink drawings by Richard DeSpain.
The park hosts several special events throughout the year including quilting workshops, acrylic and sand painting classes, crafts and quilt show, beginner's gourd workshop, and instruction in Dutch oven cooking.
Next door to the state-operated museum is a replica of a late 1800s dogtrot log cabin, owned by Prairie County. The cabin is set-up in traditional dogtrot style with the kitchen in one side and living quarters in the other, separated by an open-air breezeway. Outbuildings used as either a smoke house or a potato house and a wash house complete the complex.
Admission is free.
The Lower White River Museum is in Des Arc at the western end of Main Street at 2009 Main Street.
For more information about Arkansas State Parks historic, heritage and cultural parks, and museums, go to: http://www.historystateparks.com/