Must See Monday: MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

Kerry Kraus

I am asked frequently what I consider the “must see” destinations in Arkansas, especially from those who have never been here before. Each Monday, I’ll be writing about a city, an attraction, a restaurant or an outdoor area that I consider to be “must see” Arkansas

The 1840 Tower Building of Old Arsenal in MacArthur Park is one of the more fascinating buildings in the state. It has a storied past that began long before Douglas MacArthur, the future Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific in World War II, was born there in 1880. The Tower building is all that is left of the Little Rock Arsenal which, at one time, contained more than 30 buildings. The almost three-feet-thick exterior brick walls speak to its original purpose as a munitions warehouse.

During the Civil War, Confederate forces used the building until Union troops captured Little Rock. It garrisoned troops until its closure in 1890. One of the more obscure facts of both Arkansas and American history is explained in the new marker located on museum grounds. The Arsenal Crisis marker is in honor of the Sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War.

According to the plaque, “The Civil War could have begun at this U.S. Arsenal. As other states seceded, rumors that reinforcements were heading for the Arsenal led around 1,000 militia from south and east Arkansas to demand the surrender of the garrison. On February 12, 1861, Captain James Totten, with no orders from his superiors, abandoned the Arsenal ‘to avoid the cause of Civil War.’ Little Rock’s ladies gave him a sword to show their appreciation of his action. Two months later, Fort Sumter was attacked.”

Be sure and visit the museum to see Civil War artifacts, including the exhibit on and stained glass window of the “Boy Martyr of the Confederacy” – David O. Dodd. Related exhibits currently on display include The Camden Expedition and War and Remembrance: The 1911 United Confederate Veterans Reunion.
The above-mentioned historic tidbit adds to the already exhibit mystique of the building, which is known for being the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur. It has also gained fame for being one of the most haunted places in Arkansas. Today the museum houses artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that portray the state’s proud military history. The Old Arsenal is located at 503 East Ninth Street in MacArthur Park, a part of the Quapaw Quarter Historic District.


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