Travel the Lower Delta along Arkansas’s new All-American Road
For the first time in 12 years, the opportunity to apply for designation as an All-American Road opened in February 2020. Arkansas’s portion of the historic Great River Road received National Scenic Byway status in 2002. But we took the opportunity to “grab” that higher designation…and it paid off. On February 16, 2021, Arkansas’s Great River Road National Scenic Byway was granted All-American Road status.
Arkansas’s application focused on two intrinsic qualities required for All-American Road status: history and culture. In Arkansas’s Lower Delta, 12 sites were used in the application as examples of the history and culture of the Arkansas Delta.
Check out some of the sites included in the All-American Road on your next road trip!
Marianna is home to Arkansas’s first James Beard Award winner and birthplace of Robert McFerrin, Sr., the first Black man to appear in an opera at the Metropolitan Opera, a mere 19 days after Marian Anderson became the first African American woman to perform there. Marianna is also home to one of the country’s smallest and diverse National Forests, the St. Francis.
Historic Helena is one of Arkansas’s oldest towns, incorporated in 1833, three years before Arkansas became a state. Because of its proximity to the Mississippi River, Helena became a busy river town in the early 1800s. In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain described Helena as occupying “one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi.” The town is home to the Delta Cultural Center, Helena Museum of Phillips County, the King Biscuit Blues Festival, Freedom Park and a variety of shops and restaurants. Helena is the only downtown on the Mississippi River for the 300 miles between Memphis and Vicksburg. The Helena River Park features a 60-foot boat ramp, one of the largest public access ramps on the lower Mississippi. A boardwalk takes visitors right to the edge of the river, with interpretive panels that explain some of the local ecosystem and Civil War history.
The Louisiana Purchase State Park and Natural Area 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 area is a National Historic Landmark and a National Recreation Trail.
Louisiana Purchase State Park and Natural Area
Located on a bluff over the White River, St. Charles is known as the site of the “single deadliest shot fired during the Civil War.” It is also home to the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important areas for wintering waterfowl in North America. The refuge is also home to the only population of native black bear in the State of Arkansas and is designated as a Wetland of International Importance.
Stuttgart began as a colony of German immigrants in the late nineteenth century and became one of the centers of rice farming in Arkansas after the crop was first introduced to in the state in 1902. Because of the community’s proximity to the Mississippi River Flyway and the rice grown in the area, Stuttgart is a “mecca” for ducks in the winter and has become a cultural hub for hunters. The town is home to the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, dedicated to prairie pioneers, featuring over 10,000 artifacts and focusing on the culture of the region.
Arkansas Post has played an important part in the history of what is now Arkansas since the late 17th century. Arkansas Post was established in 1686 by French explorer Henri de Tonti. The site was the first European colony in the Mississippi River Valley and 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. 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 National Memorial is located south of Gillett and the park 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.
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, located in the Arkansas Delta, 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. Jerome, located in Drew County, operated the shortest amount of time of any of the 10 camps, from Oct. 6, 1942, to June 30, 1944. All that remains of the camp is a smokestack from the camp’s laundry. A granite marker commemorates the camp’s location. Rohwer is located in Desha County. The camp was opened Sept. 18, 1942, and did not close until Nov. 30, 1945, making it one of the last camps to cease operation. The location has several commemorative markers and a small cemetery. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Actor and writer George Takei, best known for his role as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, was interned as a young boy with his family at Rohwer. In April 2013, Takei returned to the Arkansas Delta and dedicated the opening of the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee, as well as outdoor interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer site. The exhibits include a series of kiosks and wayside panels, with audio components narrated by Takei, and provide a glimpse into the lives of Japanese Americans once interned there. The Rohwer site is located directly off State Highway 1, part of Arkansas’s Great River Road National Scenic Byway/All-American Road.
Lake Village lies on the curving shore of picturesque Lake Chicot, a 20-mile long abandoned channel of the Mississippi River that happens to be the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America. The history of the community can be found throughout the town. Geologists estimate that Lake Chicot likely separated from the Mississippi River several centuries ago when the river cut a shorter pathway to the east. The expedition of Hernando de Soto likely touched upon the site of the lake; after his death and burial near Lake Village, his body was exhumed and thrown into the Mississippi River. Many historians today believe that part of the river became Lake Chicot. Lakeport Plantation, the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River, is located outside Lake Village. 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. Lake Chicot State Park offers great recreational activities, including fishing, hiking, boating and camping.