Women’s History at Mount Nebo State Park
Mount Nebo State Park is the state’s second oldest state park. The park can be found in a stellar spot atop of Mount Nebo and its location is tied with an interesting piece of history. In 1924, Mount Nebo became the first town on record in Arkansas to have an all-female government, including a female mayor and city council. At the park, there is a panel dedicated to the all-female council in the Cornwell House. The Cornwell House is a historic building that contains exhibits on the history of the mountain.
The all-female government had an impact on the town.
“From the little information that I’ve found on the city council, petticoat government, it seems like the council members accomplished all they set out to do,” said Jackie Rupp, park interpreter at Mount Nebo State Park. “They installed benches, they cleared roads, and stone steps were built from the summit of the mountain to the bench level of Mount Nebo, among other things. According to the exhibit panel in the Cornwell House, these women lived and were present on Mount Nebo more so than the men they ran against, their husbands and close male relatives. These men spent the majority of their time off the mountain working. It makes sense that these women were elected because they were familiar with the mountain and the improvements that needed to be made. At the time they were elected and served their terms; maybe a large impact they had was making the necessary improvements that Mount Nebo most needed at the time. In my opinion, knowing things need to be improved and working to get them improved is a great accomplishment.”
The group also made history. “This is quite the underdog story,” said Rupp. “These women bucked gender roles and ran against their husbands and close male relatives even though the chances were slim that they would win. They had no precedent in Arkansas; they were the first all-female council in Arkansas after all. This probably took a lot of courage. Against the odds, they won. I don’t know how these women felt about the election, but looking back from 2023, it feels like a huge accomplishment.”
The timeline leading up to the creation of Mount Nebo State Park has ties to this era. In the late 1880s, the Summit Park Hotel was built on the mountaintop, which became a national lure for travelers. In 1918, this hotel burned down in a fire and was never rebuilt. This impacted the town and tourism there. The all-female government came about with the hopes of revitalizing the town. Though they had an impact, more help was needed. The Dardanelle Chamber of Commerce proposed to make Mount Nebo a state park to popularize the mountain again and Mount Nebo became the state’s second state park in 1927.
“Arkansas passed legislation that created Arkansas State Parks and part of that legislation stated that the state could acquire tax-delinquent lands for the purposes of establishing a park,” said Rupp. “That is how the state acquired the land for Mount Nebo State Park. At the end of the 1920s the Great Depression hit. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal that included lots of relief efforts for those affected. The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of these work relief programs. The CCC played a major role in developing Mount Nebo State Park during their residency from 1933 until 1935. Petit Jean, Lake Catherine, Devil’s Den and Crowley’s Ridge are the other Arkansas State Parks developed by the CCC.”
Today, Mount Nebo State Park near Dardanelle is a great place to enjoy the outdoor beauty of the state. The Rim Trail is a prime place to start; from here you can access all of the park’s trails. The Rim Trail has panoramic views of the Arkansas River Valley and also has ties to the CCC, which constructed many of the cabins, bridges and a large majority of the park’s trails. Along with hiking, this state park is one of the two Arkansas State Parks that offer hang gliding. Mountain biking is also popular on the park’s Monument Trails.
Overnight options include historic cabins and camping. In fact, one of the cabins has the designation of being the first cabin rental in state park history. When visiting the park, you might also notice private residences. The state did not acquire the entire mountain when it became a state park, and some of which the descendants of families who lived on the mountain in the late 1800s can still be found within the park today.
For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com/parks/mount-nebo-state-park.