Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources/
El Dorado Downtown
On January 10, 1921, near El Dorado a geyser of “black gold” spewed far over the 112-foot derrick of Arkansas’s first productive oil well. The town’s population quickly skyrocketed, creating the need for a new courthouse, more business space and larger churches. The prosperity would subsequently spread through 10 south Arkansas counties as more oil and natural gas was discovered. At the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover, the history of the state’s “oil boom” is told through films, historic photographs, geological and other exhibits, oil-era memorabilia and the Oil Field Park, which displays derricks and pumping equipment. Seven miles away, El Dorado’s downtown, centered around the Neo-classic 1928 Union County Courthouse, contains architecturally significant churches and other structures constructed in the 1920’s and 30’s and made possible by the new wealth. A diverse mix of shops, a variety of dining establishments and complementary landscaping and streetscape details add to the downtown atmosphere. The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources is located at 3853 Smackover Highway. 870-725-2877. Contract information for El Dorado is Downtown El Dorado, 870- 863-6113; www.goeldorado.com and Main Street El Dorado, 870-862-4747; www.mainstreeteldorado.org
Civil War artifacts and displays on two of Camden’s historic products, Camark pottery and Grapette soft drinks, are among exhibits housed in the Camden Visitors Center and Museum at 314 Adams S.W. 870- 836-6426. In the spring of 1864, the Union Army briefly captured the town of Camden during a failed Civil War campaign. Gen. Frederick Steele occupied the McCollum-Chidester House at 926 Washington Street, then the home of stagecoach operator John T. Chidester. Now hosting public tours, the house is mostly furnished with antiques original to the Chidester family, who moved into the home in 1857. 870-836-9243.
Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge
This 65,000-acre refuge in south central Arkansas is widely regarded as one of the state’s best fishing venues. Other recreational options include hiking, wildlife observation and photography. Among birders, the refuge is known as a place where the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker can be added to one’s life list. 870-364-3167; www.fws.gov/felsenthal
Historic Washington State Park
The town of Washington was founded in 1824 on the Southwest Trail just 15 miles from the Red River, which then separated American lands from the Mexican territory known as Texas. Because of its border proximity, Washington played a role in Texas’s 1835-36 war for independence. Evidence suggests that Sam Houston and others discussed plans for the revolt while Houston resided in one of the town’s taverns in 1834. The town also served as Arkansas’s Confederate capital after Union forces captured Little Rock in 1863. Historic Washington State Park preserves and showcases the town’s architecture, history and pioneer culture. Park visitors can get a sense of 19th- century life in Arkansas by taking historic tours and experiencing interpretive programs and demonstrations throughout the town. There are over 40 structures that date from the 1830s into the early 1900s. Authentic and splendidly furnished historic houses provide a glimpse of domestic life and contain many 19th century treasures such as furniture and ceramics. Noted attractions include the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse that served as the Confederate capitol, the re-construction of a period blacksmith shop where the original Bowie knife was forged, the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum, and a print museum showcasing 19th- century printing techniques. In addition to daily tours, a variety of workshops and distance learning programs, the park offers 4 major events and rental facilities for group meetings, weddings and reunions. Williams’ Tavern Restaurant has country fare food daily with the capability of catering to various events utilizing park facilities. The park is nine miles northwest of Hope via U.S. 278. 870- 983-2684;www.historicwashingtonstatepark.com
This small town has two claims to fame: it is the birthplace of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and it showcases some of the world’s largest watermelons. The town is located 25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock. While here, check out the Hope Visitor Center and Museum. The museum is located in the restored 1912 railroad depot at Division and Main Streets. It contains exhibits on the town’s history as a railway center for the cotton economy in earlier times and its on-going production of giant watermelons.
(Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)