Arkansas's First 'Boom' Town now a State Park

Article follows the photos:
Old Davidsonville State Park
Old Davidsonville State Park
Old Davidsonville State Park
Old Davidsonville State Park
April 16, 2002


Arkansas's First 'Boom' Town now a State Park
*****
By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's 13th state park, Old Davidsonville, preserves the rich history of a scenic site inhabited by prehistoric Native Americans and by pioneers early in the 19th century. Today's visitors enjoy interpretive programs with historical and nature themes as well as camping, hiking, picnicking and fishing and canoeing on the Black River or on the park's 12-acre lake. Also at the park are a barrier-free trail and fishing pier. Old Davidsonville is located about 10 miles northwest of Walnut Ridge on Ark. 166. For more information, including upcoming events, call (870) 892-4708, or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

When Old Davidsonville became a state park in 1957, the historic little townsite had been abandoned for more than a century. Records show the Black River port was perhaps Arkansas's first "boom" town. However, it faded away in less than 20 years.

Although its glory days were short lived, Davidsonville racked up many "firsts" in Arkansas history. The first territorial post office opened here in 1817. The first federal land office followed in 1820, and Davidsonville citizens erected Arkansas's first courthouse (Lawrence County) in 1822.

Historians believe the old townsite was first claimed by Frenchmen prior to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. When the Southwest Trail was opened across Arkansas, Davidsonville became an important stop along the primitive roadway. It had the advantage of serving both overland and river traffic. Conversely, the backwaters of the Black and Spring rivers often flooded the road.

Within a few years, a new section of the Southwest Trail was opened on higher ground and Davidsonville became the first Arkansas town bypassed by a major road. A new hamlet, called Jackson, popped up along the new trail, and in 1829 became the new seat for the Lawrence County courthouse. The federal land office had been moved away years before, and Davidsonville was almost a ghost town by the time Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836.

Except for a lonely cemetery, the old port eventually reverted to the natural beauty of the region. Stately oak trees that may have once shaded the public square and log cabin homes left descendants that continue to impress visitors today.

After Davidsonville became a state park, all facilities were built on the townsite. During the 1980s, everything was razed and new facilities were erected on nearby ridges, which opened the way for more extensive archeological studies. Historic interest in the townsite dates to the 1930s, but the first careful research did not occur until 1972. Several other studies have been conducted over the years, and some of the data and artifacts from Davidsonville's past are exhibited in the park's visitor center.

Archeological probes have also discovered prehistoric Native Americans used the site as early as 4,000 B.C., and the majestic two-story brick Lawrence County Courthouse was apparently built atop a native-built mound that predated 1100 A.D. The fact that the pioneer town faded away has actually aided in the recording of the site's rich history.

Today, the state park preserves the remnants of the old town and the natural environments of the area and helps visitors understand the history of the region while enjoying its scenic wonders.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"