Make a stop at the Blacksmith Shop at Historic Washington State Park
One of the many structures people can tour when they visit Historic Washington State Park in Washington, Arkansas is an interpretive blacksmith shop. Built by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation in 1960, the shop has working forges and a blacksmith there gives demonstrations and a wealth of information about the craft.
This shop is a popular feature of the state park and you will leave with an appreciation of this historic art. Heating a piece of metal in a forge and then hitting it with a hammer on an anvil never fails to capture the imagination. Many of the great blades of history have been the products of skilled bladesmiths, including the knife of James Bowie.
Washington’s most famous blacksmith, James Black, is credited with forging one of the original Bowie knives for James “Jim” Bowie in the early 1830s. Arkansas has very strong ties to the art of bladesmithing. The first bladesmithing school, the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, was created in the state in the late 1980s. For many years the school was the only one of its kind in the nation. It was named after Bill Moran, the first smith of this century to successfully forge Damascus steel.
Today, Arkansas is home to the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, which builds on this special heritage that Arkansas holds. The school is located at Historic Washington State Park at 601 Lawrence Street and is a program of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.
Along with blacksmithing history, Historic Washington State Park is packed with history on literally almost every corner.
The town of Washington was founded in 1824 on the Southwest Trail a few miles from the Red River, which then separated American lands from the Mexican territory known as Texas. The town also once served as Arkansas’s Confederate capital after Union forces captured Little Rock in 1863 during the Civil War.
Today, Washington, which is a National Register of Historic Places site, is both a state park and town intermingled. There are interesting sights in town too including the Washington Post Office, the oldest continuous postal facility in the state. Well it is actually older than the state. It was established as the Hempstead Courthouse Post Office in 1820 in Arkansas Territory. Arkansas became the 25th state of the U.S. in 1836. As to the state park, in 1973 Old Washington Historic State Park was created and today the town is one of the nation’s premier historic villages. The park was renamed Historic Washington State Park in 2006 and includes restored historic structures that serve as a homage to what life was like in the town during the 1800s.
Along with the blacksmith shop, there are many sights that stand out in the park. More information about each of the buildings, which range from sights like school houses, courthouses, taverns, churches, and more, can be found here.
Along with the buildings, the natural surroundings of the park also stand out. For instance, while there you can see a pretty impressive giant Magnolia Tree, one of the largest in Arkansas. This article has more details on the many historic and interesting trees you can see at the park.
Another neat feature of the park is where you can overnight while there. The Jailhouse Bed and Breakfast is a jailhouse there that has been renovated to sleeping quarters. You can read more about this B&B here.
For more information about Historic Washington State Park, visit arkansasstateparks.com/parks/historic-washington-state-park. For more information about the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, visit uaht.edu/bladesmithing.