Postcard From Historic Washington, Arkansas

The famous 1874 Washington Courthouse is now
the visitor center.
Established on George Washington's birthday in 1824, Washington, Arkansas is today a quiet, peaceful, tree-shaded town, a state park, and probably America's premier historic village. More than 30 restored historic structures, including examples of Southern Greek Revival and Federal architecture, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and those of hand-hewn timber framing or brace-frame cottage construction, stand as a tribute to life in Washington from 1824 to 1900. You can tour the public buildings and homes; see wonderful collections of antiques, guns and knives; visit with the guides in period attire; ride the surrey around town and step back to a more genteel  period in history. There was a time, however, when Washington was a bustling, thriving city and for almost 3 years during the Civil War, the state capitol of Arkansas.

Black's forge where the 1st Bowie knife was
made for Jim Bowie.


Located in Hempstead County, Washington was established as the first county seat. It was located on the famous Southwest Trail (the earliest road across the state) and, due to its closeness to the then Mexican border, was a stopover for pioneers traveling west to Texas. Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Jim Bowie stopped in Washington on their way to die in defense of the Alamo. Legend say's Houston planned parts of the revolt strategy in a tavern in Washington during 1834. James Black, a talented blacksmith in the town, was commissioned by Jim Bowie to create the original Bowie Knife in 1831. It was this knife he became famous for and died wielding at the Alamo.

Planted in 1839, this magnolia tree has seen
a lot of history.
The town was also the rendezvous point for volunteers to be mustered in to fight in the Mexican War in 1846.  By 1860, the booming town could boast of 17 lawyers, 16 doctors, 15 carpenters, 15 merchants, nine blacksmiths, nine teachers, six printers, 3 hotel owners, 3 carriage makers, and 1 fortune teller. But the town experienced its period of greatest importance during the Civil War. The state capitol in Little Rock fell to the Union Army in September 1863. Governor Harris Flanagin moved the state government to Washington and established offices in the Hempstead County Courthouse. Hempstead County provided its fair share of troops for the Confederacy and the town became a refugee center. In April, 1864, the battle of Prairie D'Ane was fought about 20 miles to the east of the town and the wounded were cared for in Washington.

Unfortunately for the residents, the coming of the railroad era and the establishment of the new town of Hope along the rail line which had bypassed Washington started the town on a path of decline. In 1875, a fire destroyed much of the business district. It was rebuilt, but another fire in 1883 destroyed most of the remaining old businesses in town. Hope was becoming the new shipping and trading center for Hempstead County and Washington residents began to move away. By 1900, only 374 persons were living in town. Repeated attempts to move the county seat to Hope finally succeeded in 1939 further hastening Washington's decline.

Archeological dig - notice the cannon balls
they found?
The town became a state park in 1973 and many of the old structures have been restored by the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation. For the last 20 years, archeological fieldwork has been conducted in the town and over 200,000 artifacts have been recovered and preserved. There are still 138 permanent residents who call Washington home.

Located on Highway 278 just nine miles from Hope (from I-30, take exit 30), the park is open year round from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Well preserved Washington pioneer cemetery.


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