Touring Historic Washington State Park

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The Visitor Center at Historic Washington State Park.
The Visitor Center at Historic Washington State Park.

Historic Washington State Park in Washington, Arkansas, is packed with history on almost every corner. While here you can visit historic locations that make up the largest collection of 19th-century buildings in the entire state.

The town of Washington is both a town and a state park. The state park includes restored historic structures that showcase what life was like in the town during the 1800s. Washington was founded in 1824 on the Southwest Trail and historic figures like James Bowie and Davy Crockett traveled through here. The original Bowie knife, which is now the state knife of Arkansas, was made here by local blacksmith James Black. And the town served as the Confederate capital of Arkansas from 1863 to 1865 during the American Civil War.

A good place to get an introduction to the state park is at the park’s visitor center, which can be found in the restored 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse. The visitor center is open Tuesday through Sunday 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. You can explore the park grounds from there and an option to purchase interpretative guided tours is also available.

Guided tours at Historic Washington State Park.

Three guided tours are offered daily at the park at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., and 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Each tour is around 50 minutes and costs $7 for adults, $3 for children 6-12, and no charge for children under 5. More information is available on the park’s website at HistoricWashingtonStatePark.com or call the visitor center at 870-983-2684 for schedule details.

Another way to check out the state park is by surrey ride. Rides are offered Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon and again from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tours take around 25 minutes and availability depends on weather and road conditions so call ahead to confirm. Surrey rides cost $8 for adults and $4 for children 6-12 years of age.

There are many interesting sights to see at Historic Washington State Park, including an interpretive blacksmith shop. The shop has working forges and a blacksmith gives demonstrations and information about the craft. There is also a school on the park grounds called the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, which is run by the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.

The Blacksmith Shop at Historic Washington State Park.

Along with the blacksmith shop, there are many sights that stand out in the park. You can learn more about these buildings, which include school houses, courthouses, taverns, churches and a weapons museum, by taking a virtual tour of Historic Washington.

Along with the buildings, the natural surroundings of the park also stand out. You can view the impressive Magnolia Tree, one of the largest in Arkansas. This historic tree photo essay has more details about what you can see in the park.

If you get hungry during your touring, there is Williams Tavern Restaurant onsite. Williams Tavern Restaurant serves home cooking Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. You can also stay overnight onsite at the Jailhouse Bed and Breakfast, a former jailhouse that has been renovated to sleeping quarters. Read more about the history and intriguing stories about the Jailhouse B&B.

Williams Tavern Restaurant at Historic Washington State Park.

Many events and festivals also take place at the park including Dutch Oven and Intro to Forging classes, annual events like Christmas & Candlelight and festivals like the Jonquil Festival and the James Black Bowie Knife Festival.

For more information about Historic Washington State Park, visit HistoricWashingtonStatePark.com.

Below is a lineup of guided tours available at Historic Washington State Park:

A Simple Beauty
This tour showcases houses during the peak of prosperity in the 19th century in Washington. During the tour visitors stop by the Trimble House, Royston Townhouse and the Sanders Home and Farmstead to learn about these houses and the lives of the people who lived there.

Get to Work
This tour highlights the life of blue-collar skilled workers and professionals. During the tour visitors see the Crouch House, Purdom Home and the Royston Townhouse to learn where people of common occupations lived and worked in 19th century Washington.

Mind, Body, Spirit
During this tour the lives of African American citizens in Washington and their significant contributions to the community and country will be explored in the context of the stages of interracial development in the area.

Peak of Prosperity
This tour focuses on the types of businesses and the merchandise available during the 19th century. During the tour visitors make stops by the Weapons Museum, the Print Museum, the 1836 Courthouse and remaining businesses from the Business District of Washington.

Pioneer Life
This tour highlights the lifestyles of early Arkansas settlers and the variety of chores they had to do to survive.

A Woman's Touch                                                                                                                                   
This tour focuses on three different socioeconomic stations available to women during the 19th century: the working woman, the woman as a business owner and the woman of means and position.