One Tank Travel: Arkansas Plantation Country

A Taste of the Old South: No one minds learning if you do so while having fun. You can discover what life was like from all viewpoints in The Natural State during the plantation era by taking this two-to-three day tour.

Even though it’s not open for everyday visitors, you need to at least drive by Marlsgate Plantation at Scott, approximately 25 minute southeast of Little Rock. Exit off U.S. 165 at Baucum onto Old Hwy. 30 and drive. As you cross Walker’s Corner Road, Old Hwy. 30 becomes Bearskin Lake Road and will lead you to the house and Bearskin Lake. Originally the Dortch family farm, the stately Greek Revival structure features the front porch Ionic columns are over 40 feet tall and huge pecan trees dot the lawn. The home has over 30 antique-filled rooms and is open for weddings, receptions, tour groups and special events.

Head back toward Scott and watch for directional signs to Scott Settlement Plantation located at the corner of Walker’s Corner and Alexander Roads. You’ve just seen how a portion of people lived during antebellum days; now you’ll how the others lived. This gathering of structures is typical of how plantation life was in and around Scott. Don’t miss the Battle of Ashley’s Mill marker on the grounds. Just down the road is another historic home worth driving by. Open for special events, receptions and weddings, the circa 1835 Ashley Alexander House is a stunning piece of architecture.

All this exploring has to have worked up an appetite and this small community boasts a “must eat” restaurant. Come hungry and prepared to dig in if home-cooking is more your style. Turn onto Ark. 161 at Scott and head south to Cotham’s Country Store and Restaurant  –  “Where the Elite Meet to Eat.” Don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line but this legendary eatery is definitely worth the wait. Home-cooking heads the menu with such Southern staples as chicken and dumplin’s, fried green tomatoes, catfish, and the fabled “hubcap” burger. If you’re really brave or extremely hungry, you can get a “double hubcap.”

Located not far from Cotham’s is the Plantation Agriculture Museum State Park, housed in the old Dortch Plantation general store. Exhibits here interpret the history of cotton production in the state. In addition to the main museum building, there are antique tractors and a restored rare cotton gin.

Back on U.S. 165 continue south until you reach England and the junction with Ark. 15. Appropriately enough, you’ll continue south on Ark. 15 until you reach the tiny farming community of Altheimer. Watch for the signs to The Elms Plantation where you’ll spend the night. You’ll immediately notice a difference in atmosphere as you pass through the entry gate and onto the bed and breakfast grounds. You’ve been transported back to the 1800s. Huge elm and pecan trees shade the huge front lawn. Though the structure was built post Civil War, you still get the feel of the antebellum era. Enjoy the outdoor patio or go fishing in the pond. Or grab a book from the library.

After a “Grand Country Breakfast” at The Elms, you can finish exploring the grounds or just relax. Then it’s time to head to the last destination: Lakeport Plantation. Backtrack to U.S. 65 and head south to Lake Village. You’ll be passing through the Arkansas Delta which has some of the most fertile soil in the south.

It will be time for lunch upon arrival in town so look for Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales on Saint Mary Street. This legendary South Arkansas restaurant has been featured in national publications as a great place to chow down. The menu is changed daily but the well-known homemade tamales are always offered. Be sure and save room for a piece of Rhoda’s mouthwatering pie as well.

The plantation is located off U.S. 82 on Ark. 142 just south of Lake Village. This late 1850s modified Greek Revival home is the last remaining antebellum house on the Mississippi River in Arkansas that hasn’t been extensively altered. The restored museum focuses on the area’s transition from slavery to tenant farming.

After visiting the plantation, head toward your cabin at Lake Chicot State Park for overnight lodging. First, pick up a driving tour brochure at the park visitor center that highlights the Civil War sites along Lake Chicot, including Ditch Bayou Battlefield. If you like restaurants with unusual settings and great food, visit the Cow Pen for dinner where the entrance looks like a cattle chute.

After breakfast do some great shopping at the Paul Michael Company or visit the Guachoya Cultural Art Center before hitting the road for home.

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