Washington Historic State Park, Confederate Capital Of Arkansas

James N.

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Part I - Beginnings of the Present Park
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I previously featured a thread on what was formerly known as Old Washington Historic State Park, Arkansas, and realized that I hadn't visited there in years and had no recent photos showing it, so took advantage of the wonderful Spring weather we've been enjoying lately to travel there this past weekend to make a photo survey of most of the restored buildings in what was once one of the earliest and most important towns in this entire region. Washington owes its existence mainly to its location in what was then far southwest Arkansas on the Southwest Trail leading from the center of the then-Territory to the Fulton Ferry crossing of the Red River and then on to Mexican Texas near what is now the Twin Cities of Texarkana.

Like another regional Antebellum gem I have featured before, Jefferson in East Texas, Washington today owes its survival as a well-preserved historic site to the fact that in the 1880's a then-new rail line bypassed it eight miles to the southeast thereby creating a new town called Hope. Ravaged by at least two fires that destroyed much of its downtown, the county seat was removed to the new town and Washington reverted to a sleepy hamlet waiting to be rediscovered in the post-WWII era, thereby saving a large collection of antebellum homes that has been added to by the State with the addition of other nearby structures that have been relocated here, plus the reconstruction of several of the most important ones from the Territorial period. Gradually, as most - but not all! - remaining residents left, the town has been reborn as the present Historic State Park seen and mapped above.

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For our particular purposes Washington is best-known as the last capital of the Confederate State of Arkansas after its relocation first to Hot Springs and then here following the capture of Little Rock by a Federal army under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele in September of1863 as recounted on the historical marker above.

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The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse above and below was chosen by Governor Harris Flanigan as the Arkansas State Capitol and remains today. It was the first structure to be restored in 1929 using the very first appropriations voted for historical restoration in the entire state.

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Below, the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse and reconstructed Clerk's Office at right seen from across the Town Square:
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Washington also enters the realm of myth and legend as the birthplace of the legendary Bowie knife, supposedly crafted by local blacksmith James Black for either James 'Jim' Bowie or his brother Rezin Bowie in the 1830's. "Built by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation in 1960, the blacksmith shop is an interpretive center with two working forges" in order to allow demonstration of both wood and coal fires in the forging process. The space below located immediately to the rear of the present structure is thought to be the actual location of Black's shop.

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Other reconstructed historic structures include the Morrison Tavern Inn above and below, also "built by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation in 1960... Its design was based on an original 19th-century building that once stood at this location." According to tradition and legend its guests included David "Davy" Crockett and Sam Houston while on their respective ways to Texas.

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Below, another reconstruction, the Williams' Tavern reproduces one from 1832 and serves as the park's restaurant, serving lunches from 11 am to 3 pm. The menu is mainly sandwiches and desserts typical of lunch fare, but there's also a daily plate lunch special; during my visit I feasted on tender roast beef, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, green beans, and a huge slab of jalapeno cornbread, washed down with iced tea and followed up by a big bowl of pecan cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream!

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Next, Part II - a slew of Witness Trees and a historic cemetery!
 
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James N.

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Part II - Witness Trees
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Washington's several Witness Trees are well-known enough to rate their very own walking tour guide above. The photo at top is of what is no doubt the most famous of all, the Historic Washington Giant Magnolia - the entire block is occupied and covered by the tree surrounded by what are either its seedlings or suckers that have sprung from the giant ground-touching branches!

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"In 1839 General Grandison Royston planted a Southern Magnolia next to his law office at the corner of Conway and Jay Streets facing the Main Town Square. Later General Royston built his residence in 1845 and planted another Southern Magnolia in front of his new house (ca. 1843-1845)... The "Historic Washington Magnolia" was recognized as the state champion 1983-1996 and remains a landmark."

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Royston's tree now covers the entire lot where his office no longer stands and encroaches on the next-door lot where the home of Dr. Isaac Newton Jones once stood:

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Other prominent Washington trees include the so-called Mail Carrier Smith Catalpa above and Abraham Block Pecan on the lot below. "John H. Smith came to Hempstead County in 1824 when he was seven years old. In 1831, when he was 14 years old, Smith carried the mail 180 miles on horseback from Washington, Arkansas to Nachitoches, Louisiana. It required ten days for the roundtrip and he made two trips each month. On his mail route, he stopped at a catalpa tree hedge growing along the Red River. he filled his pocket with the winged seed from this tree and when he got to Washington, he scattered the seed over the land where the 1836 Courthouse was built. He introduced the Southern Catalpa to the area... This particular tree was estimated to be 173 years old in 2004."

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Unfortunately the Abraham Block Pecan is barely visible in the left background. "This tree could date back to the time of building his house (customary in the town) or could predate the house... His family moved after he finished the home in 1828."

Pioneer Cemetery
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Washington boasts two cemeteries, the oldest of which is known as the Pioneer Cemetery seen here. It was begun around the time of the founding of the town in the 1820's or 1830's and although it looks virtually empty, ground-penetrating radar has shown it to actually be almost full! There are actually two separate plots here along a ridge, one slightly removed to the right of this for the slave population. Ironically, after the cease of burials here around the beginning of the Civil War with the creation of the new cemetery at the edge of town, the local population of Emancipated slaves and their descendants continued to be buried here well into the Twentieth Century.

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Several years ago a tornado swept through town bringing down many trees and their limbs, including here in the cemetery; happily, no trace of the considerable damage done to the remaining historic headstones, most dating from the 1850's and including many infants and young children, is now apparent and the grounds are immaculately cared for.

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Next time, Part III - houses galore!
 

James N.

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Part III - Washington's Many Antebellum Homes
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Like Jefferson, Texas, Washington, Arkansas boasts the largest concentration of Antebellum homes in the state; however, and greatly unlike Jefferson, Washington's almost all retain their antebellum appearance and character. When Washington was first visualized as a State Park prior to its creation as one in 1972 it was very similar to current Jefferson: many if not most of the still-occupied homes had suffered various renovations and "modernization" by additions and throughout the town were mixed in anachronistic late Victorian through post-WWII ranch-style homes. As the park has steadily grown over the intervening years, more and more properties have been steadily added and restored and post-Civil War additions and structures have been removed. The original vision was to create a sort of Arkansas Territorial version of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia; although nothing quite that grandiose has yet been realized, I must say that in many ways the result has been if anything more satisfying and I dare say more truly authentic.

The ca. 1857 Crouch Home above is a typical example of Washington's period homes; like most of them dating from this period, it was constructed in the then-new-and-popular Greek Revival Style, but on a modest scale. Unlike Jefferson where a continual influx of new turn-over buyers, many from out-of-state, have largely ruined their properties through continual renovations and additions to make them more "livable" as either residences or bed-and-breakfast venues, the State here has removed all anachronisms, restoring them to approximations of their original appearances. Although furnished in a typical period style, the furnishings are also simple in nature, appropriate to a well-heeled but still basically frontier community, nothing like the mini-Taras that plague Jefferson.

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The 1845 Simon T. Sanders Farmstead above and below is one of the few homes that has had reconstruction of the several "dependencies" that were features of all Victorian homes, including a detached kitchen, barn, garden, and multiple outbuildings such as the inevitable outhouse.

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The 1832 Abraham Block House above and below is noted as "one of the few Federal-style structures remaining in Southeast Arkansas. Block, who settled here in the 1820's, was the first documented Jewish settler in Arkansas'' and became a prosperous local and regional merchant. "The exterior was returned to its original design in 1987," another example of the State's progress in restoring the community.

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The Royston Log House above and below is dwarfed beside the enormous Washington Magnolia Tree to its left. "This saddlebag log cabin, built in 1835, was originally located on Grandison Royston's plantation northeast of Washington" as the home for his overseer and was moved to its present location and restored in 1986. The log construction has been sheathed over with planking, a common "improvement" made to original structures such as this.

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The 1850 Dr. James A. L. Purdom House above and below was home to one of Washington's several doctors, so has been a likely location for several of our past Confederate field hospital sites during Washington's annual Civil War Experience usually held in October or November.

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"John Brooks built this Greek Revival house for Grandison D. Royston and family in 1845. A lawyer and planter, Royston served in the 1836 and 1874 Arkansas Constitutional Conventions and was a member of the Confederate House of Representatives during the Civil War." Somewhat unfortunately during its construction Royston planted what has become known as the Royston House Magnolia, another of Washington's giant Witness Trees that now completely obscures a view of the house except up close!

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The 1824 Stuart-Smith House above and below is currently empty and apparently undergoing restoration. Although it is included on the map of Historic Washington State Park, confusingly there are For Sale signs in its yard - perhaps it could be the Antebellum dream home of some prospective buyer!

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The ca. 1840 Peck House and outbuildings at the corner of Conway and Morrison Streets above and below is another modest townhouse noted for its twin chimneys.

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The beautiful 1853 Woodlawn House above and the recently-restored and incomplete 1855 Monroe House and its outbuilding below stand on the west side of town along the Southwest Trail leading to Texas.

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Also on an elevated rise across the Trail from the Woodlawn House are the Ca. 1847 Trimble House and outbuildings above.

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Another relatively recent restoration on the west edge of town is the Ca. 1860 Brunson House above and below with its elaborate reconstructed front porch.

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Next, Part IV - Other notable structures.
 
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James N.

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Part IV - Notable Post-Bellum Structures
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Dominating the center of town is the "new" Hempstead County Courthouse which served from its construction in 1874 until the removal and relocation of the county seat to nearby Hope in 1939. The handsome building currently serves as the park Visitor Center and museum featuring exhibits and artifacts on the history of the town and surrounding area.

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The second-floor courtroom above and adjacent office below remain as they were in its heyday at the center of county government.

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The 1918 Hempstead County Jail pictured above and below has been recently re-purposed as the Jail Bed & Breakfast.

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The ca. 1865 Methodist Church above is one of three no longer operating houses of worship in town - the other two are of even more recent vintage - but serves as a rental facility for groups; I attended a reunion dinner for members of the Confederate Guard here several years ago during the annual reenactment. (Note the Jail B&B in the background at right.)

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Other old but incongruous after-the-turn-of-the-Twentieth Century structures are the 1914 Washington Schoolhouse above and the 1940 WPA (Works Progress Administration) Gym below, both available as rental facilities for large group events.

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Standing at the eastern edge of town and returning to its agricultural roots is the 1883 Goodlett Cotton Gin and its outbuildings including the Scale House below where wagons were once weighed.

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Next, Part V - The ca. 1860 Presbyterian Cemetery
 

James N.

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Part V - War Comes to Washington
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Fortunately actual fighting never reached as far as Washington, but its location on the Southwest Trail leading to Texas plus it serving as the political center of what remained of Confederate-held Arkansas combined to made it a secondary target during the Red River Campaign. Best known for the fate of the southern pincer of the projected Union invasion in the Spring of 1864 and defeat of
Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks' Federal army at Mansfield, Louisiana, there was a concurrent advance from Union-held Little rock under the command of Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele. Although Steele's threat never quite reached Washington it came as close as Prairie d'Ane before being turned back in a series of skirmishes and the destruction of Steele's supply train by a Confederate cavalry raid.

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As seen on the map above, Washington was on a straight line between the State Capital Little Rock held by the North and the Red River crossing of the Southwest Trail at Fulton, Arkansas. Today although removed by several miles from the actual trail route, modern Interstate 30 parallels this route; Historic Washington State Park lies only eight or so miles north of it at the Hope exit and is clearly marked. Unfortunately, though they are designated State Historical Sites there is almost nothing save a historical marker or two at the sites of the "battles" - large skirmishes for the most part - of Prairie d'Ane, Poison Spring, Marks Mills, Elkins Ferry, Moscow Church, and even the largest of them, Jenkins' Ferry which occurred at a river crossing during Steele's retreat; though the Confederates received a sound drubbing there it did not hinder nor affect the Union return to Little Rock.

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Presbyterian Cemetery And Confederate Burial Trench And Monument
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For whatever reason, Washington's Pioneer Cemetery ceased receiving white burials around the beginning of the Civil War which coincided with the ca. 1860 establishment of the new Presbyterian Cemetery. For that reason, there appear to be no graves of Confederate fatalities or veterans there, though there are apparently at least a couple of veterans of the Revolutionary War. Instead, all Confederate graves are located here in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

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Most notable among the Confederates and former Confederates is probably ex-Confederate States Congressman from Arkansas, local lawyer, plantation owner, and planter of the two huge Washington Magnolia Witness Trees, Grandison D. Royston whose family plot is seen above. Also buried here is State Senator Augustus Garland.

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Many other graves of former Confederate soldiers like that of the melodically-named Irishman Valentine O. McMonigle of Jackson's Battery of Missouri Artillery above are scattered throughout the cemetery grounds.

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The so-called battle of Prairie d'Ane/De Anne occurred closest to Washington, turning many of its homes into the inevitable hospitals. Both subsequent fatalities as well as those battlefield dead appear to have been brought here, the unknowns placed in a burial trench. The marker above gives some details of the campaign and this battle.

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Today the burial trench supposedly containing the remains of seventy four Texans and Missourians is at the rear of the cemetery; beside or atop it is the handsome Confederate Monument seen below. Unsaid but presumably any Arkansas fatalities were likely identified and removed to their hometowns for burial.

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Facing the monument is another obviously recent row of identified headstones that evidently have nothing to do with the battle, like that of Texan Lieutenant James F. Walker below who perished in September, 1862.

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Below, another Spring and wildflowers have come to what were likely once fields of cotton, now pastureland, along the old Southwest Trail between Washington and Fulton, Arkansas.

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DaveBrt

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Thanks for the post. An uncle of mine joined the 6th TX Cav in Dallas in Sept. 1861 and "died in cantonment at Washington, Arkansas" in December of the same year.
 

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Nicely done James N. Great pictures and commentary.
 

James N.

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Nicely done James N. Great pictures and commentary.
Thanks, Bobby! I didn't want to post the poor-quality photo above in the main thread but thought you and possibly some others might find it interesting anyway. (You can see my reflection in the bottom half!) Although there are no Civil War veterans buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, the photo indicates it may have been full or almost full by the time of the war as suggested by the recent use of ground-penetrating radar. The trapezoid to the left represents Pioneer while the irregular space at right is the black cemetery containing former slaves and their descendants. As you can see, the now apparently empty cemetery is actually covered with possible and probable graves which were once likely indicated by at least wooden markers.
 
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