Old Washington Historic State Park, Arkansas

James N.

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I have mentioned Old Washington Historic State Park in the forums before, usually as the setting for a frequent reenactment formerly held every other year in the Autumn months of October or November. However, the park itself is open year-round and a worthwhile place to visit at almost any time. It is located in the far southwestern corner of the state near the community of Hope a few miles north of Interstate 30 and parallels what was the historic route between Little Rock and Mexico (later the Republic of Texas) known as the Texas Road when Washington was founded. In fact, legend says that a local blacksmith named James Black created the original "Bowie Knife" here for Jim Bowie's brother Rezin in the 1820's! Later during the Civil War the capital of the Confederate State of Arkansas was relocated here following the Union occupation of Little Rock in mid-1863 and its subsequent removal, first to Hot Springs and then here. Happily for modern visitors, following the war the capital reverted to Little Rock, the railroad bypassed Washington, and the town slipped into a century of torpor and neglect which preserved many fine old antebellum homes like Woodlawn above, built in 1853 and framed by the giant Wisteria vine.

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Another fine old home is the Dr. Purdom House, built ca. 1850 and often used as the setting for our living history field hospitals during reenactments; in its back yard below, Dr. Doug Garnett at left regales students from a nearby high school visiting on a Friday school day. Note how the buildings are grouped in what was once a small town, now the park proper.

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Another home seen and photographed during my visit in April, 1997 is the 1857 Crouch House above.

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A reenactment favorite is the Williams Tavern, ca. 1832, which has been operated as a restaurant venue by the park, offering plate lunches both during events and to the general public on most days the rest of the year. This is an important feature, since the nearest facilities and services are several miles away along the Interstate or in Hope. Below, the tavern as seen on a snowy February day in 2000.

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The 1847 John D. Trimble House above stands a slight distance from the others on its own large lot. The state originally envisioned Old Washington as a sort of antebellum Arkansas' version of Colonial Williamsburg and although that idea proved rather grandiose it nevertheless gives an idea of what they hoped to accomplish. Personally, I far prefer this to the phony commercialism of the infinitely more famous latter tourist attraction; the country setting here still evokes the spirit of the original frontier community.

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One of the few post-war structures still remaining in the park (several twentieth-century houses within the historic district have been removed) is the ca. 1870's brick courthouse above being "guarded" by Union Pvt. Bradley Garnett during an event held in October, 2010. (Although it's also still standing, for some reason I never photographed the frame court building that served as the Confederate State Capitol from 1863-1865.) The substantial 1870's court building now houses exhibits and serves as both offices and Visitor Center for the park. Washington was originally the county seat but it was moved to Hope later in the century with the arrival of the railroad, hastening the demise of Washington as an important community in this region of the state.

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Another surviving landmark is the 1861 Methodist Church which I believe is still in use; during one event the Confederate Guard used it in which to hold a memorable unit reunion that I was fortunate enough to attend. Below, another survivor - not me! - a two hundred-plus year-old magnolia witness tree, planted by an early settler in the 1830's which stands several stories tall and covers an entire city building plot!

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Reminds me a bit of our Arrow Rock.

I have always thought that alot of declining towns have been lost opportunities to have been preserved as parks, especially as living history.
 

James N.

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Reminds me a bit of our Arrow Rock.

I have always thought that alot of declining towns have been lost opportunities to have been preserved as parks, especially as living history.
Thanks for the tour! I’ve not heard of the place before. That’s the largest magnolia I’ve ever seen by a mile. Unbelievable!
The rich land and temperate climate that proves beneficial to the plants here was also good cotton-growing land in Arkansas' territorial and early statehood periods, causing the growth of the community. It was also located not far from the principal crossing of the Red River on the road to Texas. When I first visited here back around 1970 the State was only beginning to develop Old Washington as a park, slowly but steadily buying up properties as they became available and not rushing development. As it grew, a landmark stagecoach inn that had reputedly had both Davy Crockett and Sam Houston as guests while on their respective ways to Texas was totally reconstructed; other anachronistic late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century structures that had stood among the antebellum buildings were removed, as were add-ons to the historic ones. The decorative white picket fences and rustic board fences were eventually added, which does much to create the ambient small-town atmosphere. Unfortunately, a strong windstorm or tornado occurred between my 1997 and early 2000's visits seen here, and it did a LOT of damage, particularly to the older trees, though I believe the magnificent magnolia was totally spared. The damage took over a year to clear and repair, particularly in the heavily wooded spot where the historic town cemetery is located - unfortunately several tombstones were smashed by falling timber.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Here's an account, or rather a chapter from an escaped Union POW from Camp Ford with an account, of Old Washington in the later part of the CW. Major Bering was a "guest" in the Arkansas Confederate Capitol.

History of the 48th OVVI - Escape and Recapture - Chapter III (48ovvi.org)

The entire book is a fascinating one, I know I love it for it being a first hand account of my home stomping ground from alien eyes in the CW. Here's this account from the beginning for anyone who cares to read it., as well as a site full of goodies about Camp Ford.

History of the 48th OVVI - Escape and Recapture - Chapter I (48ovvi.org)

Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas - 48 OVVI
 

James N.

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