Exploring the culture of the Lower Delta
This month’s Discover Arkansas encourages readers to create their own Arkansas experience. Here are some suggestions of locations to visit in the Lower Delta to learn more about the region’s culture and heritage. Plan to visit a few or all of them for your customized tour of southeastern Arkansas.
- The Delta Cultural Center in historic Helena interprets the 27 counties known as the Arkansas Delta. Visitors can explore exhibits featuring music, Native American, the Civil War, the Mississippi River and much more.
- The WWII Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee serves as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center and houses the featured exhibit, “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas.” After the United States entered World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority, creating 10 sites throughout the country to incarcerate Japanese Americans. Rohwer and Jerome were established in March 1942 and served as the War Relocation Authority’s easternmost camp sites. The two camps would eventually house nearly 18,000 people.
- Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park near Brinkley conserves a rare headwater swamp and a granite monument standing in the swamp’s interior. The monument marks the “initial point” established during an original survey of lands added to the United States as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 1972, and on April 19, 1993, the National Park Service designated the point a National Historic Landmark.
- Freedom Park in historic Helena is Arkansas’s first is the first location in Arkansas designated as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. Once the location of a Contraband camp, this park is dedicated to interpreting the African American experience during the war. The five exhibits feature life-sized figures and sculptures, and structures representing a plantation house and a refugee dwelling.
- Arkansas Post National Memorial in Gillett traces the history of Arkansas Post from its establishment in 1686. Inside the park, visitors take a self-guided tour of the area, including a layout of the town and an 1863 Civil War battlefield with remnants of Confederate trenches. Arkansas Post has played an important part in the history of what is now Arkansas since the late 17th century. By 1821, Arkansas Post had served as the local governmental, military, and trade headquarters for the French, the Spanish, and the United States. Arkansas Post was established in 1686 by French explorer Henri de Tonti. The site was the first European colony in the Mississippi River Valley. Arkansas Post is also the location of the only Revolutionary War skirmish to take place in what is now Arkansas. Due to the settlement’s proximity to the Arkansas River, Arkansas Post was a thriving river town by the early 1800s and was selected as the capital of the Arkansas Territory.
- Regardless of age, everyone will love the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff. The museum is home to the 819, the last steam engine built in the Cotton Belt Shops (the same building that now houses the Arkansas Railroad Museum). Visitors will see locomotives, passenger cars, a former hospital kitchen car and much more. Before your trip, check out the museum’s kids’ section on the website, featuring coloring pages, train whistle signals, a dictionary of train terms and train hand signals.
- The Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie in Stuttgart is dedicated to prairie pioneers and features over 10,000 artifacts and focuses on the culture of the region. The winner of various awards for leadership in the field of conservation, the unique museum depicts the history of agriculture and the pioneers who farmed the Grand Prairie of eastern Arkansas from the 1800s to 1921.Displays of home living, settlers’ entertainment and education, and early farm life are available. One of the most popular displays is the Waterfowl Wing, which features all species of waterfowl that frequent the Mississippi Flyway, mounted and displayed as if they were coming to the small pond to rest. The exhibit includes audio of each bird’s call, as well as a duck blind, a river bottom guide boat, a duck call shop, a presentation of a rice field with geese and ducks feeding, and a distinct display of Indian duck effigy pottery from AD 1100.
- Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village is the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. The historic site researches and interprets the people and cultures that shaped plantation life in the Mississippi River Delta, focusing on the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. Lakeport Plantation has remained in continuous cotton production since the 1830s when the enslaved carved it from the heavily forested Arkansas frontier. It tells the story of agricultural development in the region and the accompanying changes in the African American experience. These include the transition from frontier and plantation slavery, to sharecropper and tenant farmer systems, to agricultural mechanization and the resultant mass exodus of African Americans to factories in the North, to large-scale corporate farming.