Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Out and About in Arkansas, Part II

AKA the State and Federal Parks edition. 

In addition to the obvious national park, the one that's the easiest to get to*, the incredibly photogenic one from the view point of a former architectural historian (see photo above), we've visited a couple other parks in the past couple of weeks. 

First up was the William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site (WICL), the place Clinton and his mom called home for the first four years of his life. The park was a first for me: I took zero photos. Maybe it was just too gray a day. The photo of the house I'm using in this post is courtesy of the National Park Service.

The park was interesting, but probably not in the way that supporters of the park would appreciate. Before I saw it, I'd been thinking "Why?" As in "why is it a National Park Service site?" And I'm still thinking that. I don't buy the argument that just because someone was President that automatically makes places that person lived historically significant. And even if the places associated with a past President merit preservation and interpretation, not every one of them requires National Park Service management. The Clinton early childhood home could have easily remained in private nonprofit organization hands or become a state park, but, nope, the NPS got stuck with another money pit. (The house has foundation issues. Work that would cost a private homeowner or a local nonprofit maybe  $20,000 will end up in an NPS budget as $2,000,000.)

I will say WICL has done a decent job of having the house more or less accurate to its period of significance (late 1940s). The furniture fits the time period, there's nothing notably out of place. I did have a few minor quibbles -- the medicine cabinet, for example, could have used some editing. Everything in it might have been accurate to the pre-Korean War era, but having similar products from different retailers struck me as anachronistic. You know, how many rolls of adhesive tape does a person need and, if you want more than one, why get multiple brands? 

On the other hand, the Hopalong Cassidy bedspread on Bill Clinton's bed was a nice touch. Clinton reportedly was a huge Hopalong Cassidy fan as a child. He did like Westerns -- Louis L'Amour was (is?) a favorite author. Whether or not he ever actually had such a bedspread as a child is unknown, but it does tie in with things he has said he liked. The only item in the house that did actually belong to Clinton is a child's picture book; everything else in the house is just stuff that's the right age and kind of matches the few family photographs that show the interior. According to the interpretive ranger leading the tour, Clinton himself thought some of the furniture had actually belonged to his grandparents when he visited the home after it became a museum.

From the town of Hope we ambled a few miles down highway US-278 to Historic Washington State Park. Washington is one of the oldest towns in Arkansas and has two claims to fame: it is where the Bowie knife first saw the light of day (a local blacksmith is credited with its invention) and it served as the Arkansas Confederate state capitol for two years during the Civil War. It is also known for the remarkable number of really old (by U.S. standards) houses and other buildings that have survived. We had lunch at the sort of historic Williams Tavern before checking out the park. I say "sort of historic" because although the building is pushing 200 years in age, it's not on its original site. Arkansas State Parks moved it approximately 7 miles in 1985 and rehabbed it as a restaurant. 

We did enjoy checking out the exhibits in the courthouse (pictured above; it stopped being the county courthouse when the town of Hope won a local election that moved the county seat) and then ambling around town admiring 19th century architecture. There is a replica blacksmith shop commemorating the invention of the Bowie knife, although to be honest I'm not sure just what would make a Bowie knife much different than any other knife available at the time. I did some googling and it appears the blacksmith (James Black) celebrated in Washington did make a knife for Jim Bowie that incorporated some improvements on previous versions of a common type of hunting and/or fighting knife, which isn't exactly inventing the knife, but close enough for the super short sound bites common on signage at state parks. Whatever Black did or did not do, he developed a reputation for good quality work and built a successful business producing knives better than the usual ones available in the 1830s. 

There is a memorial to James Black, although it's a bit odd looking. The blacksmith's shop does have an actual blacksmith doing demonstrations, although we happened to hit a day when the smith wasn't there. The park sells wrought iron items made by the resident smith, e.g., plant hangers. Reasonably priced but I was in full spend-no-money mode thanks to our truck still sitting at the garage in Missouri. 

The park has an event planned for March, a jonquil festival, that sounded like it might be fun. Washington is less than an hour's drive from Hot Springs so we may check that out. Assuming, of course, we have our truck back by then and I'm no longer afraid to spend any money.

The following weekend we decided to head for the southeastern corner of the state, get down into the Arkansas/Mississippi delta country, and visit Arkansas Post National Memorial and Arkansas Post State Museum, but I think I'll do a Part III instead of making this post even longer. 
*Photo is a shot down Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs National Park. The nifty dome graces the Quapaw Bathhouse, one of the 8 historic bathhouses along the Row. Seven are open to the public: one is the park visitor center, one is still a functioning bathhouse with traditional thermal baths, one's a brew pub/restaurant, . . .back when I worked for the Park Service 16 years ago most of the bathhouses were mothballed, but NPS management has done a good job of finding tenants.


  1. Looks nice. But unfortunate it is south of the Maine border so I will never see it.
    the Ol'Buzzard

    1. It is also south of the Canadian border. Same thing

  2. I was hoping you were not affected by the ice storms that were in that area


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