One Tank Travels: Camden
We invite you to have “More Fun Per Gallon” in Arkansas this year. Each day we will be blogging on different Arkansas destinations which can be reached on one tank of gas or less. This is basically every corner of The Natural State. We hope these suggestions help you in planning a trip to remember.
I was in Camden last week and the visit got me thinking about the interesting slice of history this city holds. Whenever I visit a town, I try to find out as much about the area as I can. I
feel I get so much more out of a visit (no matter where I go) knowing the backstory of a place. Many historical buildings, homes, monuments, cemeteries and battlefields in and around Camden link it its colorful past. Murals depicting the rich history of the town can be found along scenic Ark. 7, which runs through the town.
Located on a bluff overlooking the Ouachita River, Camden is a city rich in Civil War history. The town is located in Ouachita County around 100 miles from Hot Springs and fifty miles north of Louisiana. First known as a French trading post called Ecore Fabre, its history has been closely tied to the Ouachita River and it was called the “Queen City” of the Ouachita during the steamboat era. In 1864, it became the unintended focus of the Red River Campaign, a major Civil War effort resulting in several significant battles. The ample availability of timber and the development of the railroads created the timber industry in the early 1900s. Oil was discovered in the region in the 1920s and these bits of history played a vital role in the development of the area.Movie buffs will be interested to hear that parts of the Civil War mini-series North and Southwas filmed here as well as the 1970s Martin Scorsese movie Boxcar Bertha.
Today, visitors will notice the result of a revitalization of the Camden Riverfront. This includes Sandy Beach Park, which overlooks the lower portionof the Ouachita River and includes a gazebo and picnic areas. There are signs that direct visitors to the park. When I was in town, Camden Mayor ChrisClaybaker took me on the a tour of the area and said when he became mayor ( in 1995) you couldn’t see the river from most of the area because it was so overgrown. Many locals didn’t even realize the river was so nearby. Over the years, the area has been
transformed into a park like setting that can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors.
Another new development in is a restaurant downtown called Postmasters Grill. This restaurant and bar, owned by Camden nativeEmily Jordan-Robertson,is housed in Camden’s historic 1896 Post Office at 133 w. Washington Street.The building highlights a Richard Romanesque design in a style, which is noted for being unusual to Arkansas.
Speaking of, the town is full of historic and architecturally significant homes. Among them is the Graham-Gaughan-Betts Home at 710 Washington NW. Built for Major Joseph M. Graham and his wife Mary Washington (first cousin of George Washington) in 1856, this home served as headquarters of Union General Frederick Steele during the Union occupation of
Camden in 1864. Furnished in period furniture, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. George Betts, with a prior appointment, will provide a tour of the home and grounds.
When I was visiting, Dr. Betts, a history enthusiast, took me on a tour of the town explaining much of the history of the area along the way. I can’t stress how vital hearing these stories can be towards appreciating the amount of history found here. Our venture included stops at Fort
Southerland (also known as Fort Diamond) and Fort Lookout– both part of the formidable fortifications started by Confederate troops during their 1864 occupation of Camden. Another stop was Oakland Cemetery, also on the National Register of Historic Places, and known as the largest
Confederate cemetery in the area.
We also stopped by the White House Café- a landmark spot to eat in town. The café
is at 323 Adams Avenue and the atmosphere of this place stands out. It’s gritty and welcoming at the same time and has been a staple of the town for many decades. The cafe was built around 1907 and first owned by Hristos Hodjopulas who moved to the town from Greece, which also happens to be where my mom is from. Opa!
Across the street from the café is the Camden Visitors Center and Museum, which is
located in the historic Missouri-Pacific Depot. Artifacts related to two famous Camden products, Camark pottery and Grapette soft drinks, as well as Civil War and railroad
relics, can be seen here. Camark Pottery was based in Camden from 1926 through the 1960s. The pottery was known worldwide and is still collected.
Other spots you can visit in town include the McCollum-Chidester House, which served as a Union headquarters when federal troops occupied the town during the Red River Campaign. It was featured in the series North and South. Open for tours, the house still contains 1860s furnishings. About 10 miles to the northwest, the site of the Battle of Poison Springs is preserved at Poison Spring State Park, one of three state parks commemorating the campaign.
Two major events held in the city are the Camden Daffodil Festival and the autumn BPW Barn Sale ( the region’s largest arts and crafts fair) at the historic Tate Barn. During the summer, you can catch movies during the “Movies on the River’ series at the Riverwalk Amphitheater. When I visited they had just screened a showing of The Help. No matter what might be on your radar to see if you visit, be sure to remember to gloss up on your history before your venture. You won’t regret it. Enjoy!