Arkansas Post Museum Conveys Regional History
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December 13, 2002Arkansas Post Museum
Conveys Regional History
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and TourismArkansas's 51st state park, Arkansas Post Museum, exhibits artifacts related to the state's first European settlement and to life in Arkansas's Delta region, especially the Grand Prairie. The museum is located six miles south of Gillett on U.S. 165 at its intersection with Ark. 169. The Arkansas Post National Memorial is located at the end of Ark. 169, two miles from the state museum. For more museum information, including upcoming events, phone (870) 548-2634 or visit ArkansasStateParks.com.
GILLETT -- A century and seventeen years before the land that is now Arkansas became U.S. territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase, Frenchman Henri de Tonti founded near the confluence of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers the first permanent European settlement in the Mississippi's lower valley. The year was 1686.
Though that settlement -- Arkansas Post -- had moved up the Arkansas several times in search of ground less likely to flood, it gained prominence (for a wilderness outpost) and in 1819 became the first capital of Arkansas Territory. Despite the fact that its viability was ended by Union artillery during the Civil War, it has nonetheless figured significantly in the 75-year history of Arkansas's state parks system.
In 1929, the state legislature established the Arkansas Post State Park Commission and directed it to acquire the Post's 1819 site. Sixty-two acres were purchased for what became Arkansas's third state park and, fittingly, its first historical park.
The log Refeld-Hinman House (c. 1877) was moved some two miles to the site and served as the park's headquarters. The Arkansas Post Museum, after its establishment in 1959 through the efforts of the Grand Prairie Historical Society and local citizens, also moved into the structure.
In 1960, Congress authorized the National Park Service to take over the park site and operate it as the Arkansas Post National Memorial, causing the museum's supporters to begin a relocation effort. Arkansas County purchased land two miles from the Post in 1963 and the next year appropriated funds for the construction of new museum facilities on the property at the southern edge of the Grand Prairie. That appropriation became a test case in which the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled for the first time that support for museums represented valid expenditures of county funds.
The relocated museum operated as a county facility from its opening in July 1966 until January 1997 when it was transferred to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and became the state's 51st park.
Thomas E. (Pete) Jordon, who became the museum's director last April, said the museum strives to provide the means for visitors to learn about Arkansas Post and life in Arkansas's Delta region, particularly the Grand Prairie. "Our scope is broader than, but complements, the national memorial's," he said.
"The museum has a broad collection of artifacts and materials," Jordon said, "and we're working to improve our exhibits so that they more effectively bring to light this area's significant history." The museum's artifacts relating to Arkansas Post include such items as a small crucifix dating from the 1700s (currently on loan to a Louisiana Purchase exhibit at the State Capitol); documents and letters from the Post dating from as early as 1805; a rusted derringer; a letter, dated Jan. 14, 1863, from a Union soldier to his sister describing the Union attack on the Post; and native Quapaw pottery from the 1500s through the 1700s.
"Right now," Jordon said, "our Post items are sort of spread around the museum, but next year we'll be opening an 'Arkansas Post Room' in our main building." It will include, he added, a miniature recreation of the Post as the territorial capital in 1820.
The museum is also seeking to improve its living history and other programs, Jordon said. Among numerous events planned for 2003 are:
--a month-long outdoor display in January marking the 140th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Arkansas Post and a weekend encampment of Civil War re-enactors Jan. 18-19;
--a small encampment of colonial French re-enactors March 15-16 to observe explorer LaSalle's March 1862 claim for France the area around the mouth of the Arkansas;
--an encampment of colonial Spanish and British re-enactors April 19-20 to mark the 220th anniversary of Arkansas's only armed encounter related to the Revolutionary War (the Post was under Spanish control at the time); and
--a celebration on July 4 as it might have occurred in 1804, the first year people residing in what would become Arkansas would have been aware that they were living in U.S. territory.
With help from the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission staff, an effort to re-establish native Grand Prairie plant species on three acres of the museum's property is under way. The prairie was Arkansas's largest at the time of pioneer settlement, but its native vegetation was largely eradicated as the region was cleared for agriculture, particularly rice.
The native grasses in the museum's "seed bed" now reach heights of around seven feet. "We're in the process of seeding and using plugs to establish the vegetation on the three acres," Jordan said. "And in the next few years we hope to have trails through an area that will allow our visitors to get a sense of what it felt like to be out on the original prairie."
The Refeld-Hinman House, which was moved from the memorial to the new museum site in 1967, and a kitchen outbuilding are among the museum's existing highlights. Both contain 19th-century domestic artifacts. A large collection of pioneer farm tools and household items, military displays and an assortment of other relics are displayed in the museum's Peterson Building.
Also located on the grounds is a fully furnished 1930s playhouse built for and donated to the museum by Harriet Jane Carnes. Her father, Grover C. Carnes, was a state representative and owner of a lumber company. The materials from which the house is constructed were built to scale, and the finished structure included a wood-burning fireplace, electricity and a screened rear porch with swing.
Museum admission is $2.50 for persons 13 and over and $1.50 for ages 6-12. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1. ####
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"