The Old State House is the oldest standing state capitol building west of the Mississippi River. Construction began in 1833 and was completed in 1842. Territorial Governor John Pope chose architect Gideon Shryock, who had previously designed the Kentucky state capitol building, to create plans for the Arkansas's capitol. Shryock chose the Greek Revival style, then a popular design for public buildings. The original plans were grand, and very expensive, so they were changed by George Weigart, Shryock's assistant who oversaw construction at the Little Rock site.
Arkansas became the 25th state in 1836 and was admitted along with Michigan under the provisions of the Missouri Compromise. The compromise mandated that a slave state and free state would be admitted to the Union simultaneously so that neither side would gain a majority in the federal legislature.
Much material for the building was obtained locally. The bricks were made on-site with slave labor. The Old State House served as the state capitol until 1911, when construction was completed on a new building, located at Capitol Avenue & Martin Luther King Drive.
The Old State House underwent a succession of uses after the relocation of state government. Plans to sell the old capitol building were finally resolved by legislative action in 1921. In that year, the Old State House was renamed the Arkansas War Memorial and was prepared for use by federal and state agencies. The building also was a meeting place for statewide patriotic organizations. Finally, in 1947, the Old State House became a museum by acts of the Arkansas legislature, and the Arkansas Commemorative Commission was established to oversee operations.
The museum received accreditation by the American Association of Museums in 1993. In May of 1996 the building underwent a massive renovation and reopened in June of 1999.