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Little Rock, Arkansas: From Pioneers to President, Civil War to Civil Rights

It was a frontier state, part of the Wild West. It became our 25th state in 1836, and is the smallest state west of the Mississippi. Arkansas was last of the Southern states to secede from the Union, and there are reminders throughout the state of what genteel Southerners refer to as “The Great Unpleasantness”, the Civil War.

A diagonal line drawn from the southwest to the northeast corners of the state divides the flat land on one side and rolling hills and mountains on the other. The flat delta region along the Mississippi River was plantation country and today produces more rice than any other part of country, along with soy beans, and cotton. Blues music began here.

The state’s hills and mountains offer spectacular scenery and some of the best outdoor recreation to be found. Little wonder Tourism is the #3 industry in the Natural State. There are pristine lakes and streams, an abundance of wildlife, and a welcoming, down-to-earth spirit. This gem of a state is the only one where diamonds are mined.

“Old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away”. Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur, Mary Steenbergen, Johnny Cash, and Glen Campbell were born here, but the man from Hope has captured the most attention. With the opening of the Clinton Library and Museum in the Clinton Presidential Center and Park in 2004, the riverside capital city has undergone a renaissance, and people are discovering more of what this state has to offer.

Little Rock Rocks

There is nothing wrong in America that can’t be cured with what’s right in America.” President William Jefferson Clinton in his first inaugural address.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas
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William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum was designed to symbolize the President’s “Bridge to 21st Century”. Locally, the silver rectangle is often referred to with a smile as the “trailer by the river”. The archives are the largest in any Presidential Library. Colorful displays include personal and political memorabilia, and there is a full size replica of the Oval Office.

replica of Oval Office, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas
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replica of Oval Office, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas

The introductory film was created by family friend and Hollywood producer Linda Bloodworth Thomason. Café 42 is aptly named for Arkansas’ 42nd Governor and our 42nd US President.

There are electric street cars, lively restaurants in the restored turn-of-the-century buildings of the River Market District, and a new minor league baseball park in North Little Rock. Arkansans love festivals and the summer season began in late May with Riverfest — five days of music, arts, fun, and food in Riverfront Park.

home featured in Designing Women, Little Rock
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home featured in Designing Women, Little Rock

For a good overview of the city, Little Rock With a Twist is a tour operated by two former news anchors who combine video clips with stops at points of interests around the city. You’ll pass by the Rose Law firm, the house featured in Designing Women, and Christ Episcopal Church, a hospital for those wounded in the Civil War and the church where General Douglas McArthur was baptized. Stop for a photo at The Old Mill, across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, and featured in Gone With the Wind.

Little Rock is the center of a vibrant arts community. Visit the Arkansas Arts Center to enjoy featured work by such notables as Dale Chihuli and Salvatore Dali, take in a performance by the Symphony Orchestra, or enjoy theater ranging from Broadway productions to murder mysteries. Trace military history at the MacArthur Museum.

gowns of Arkansas First Ladies. Little Rock
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gowns of Arkansas First Ladies. Little Rock

Stop by the Old State House to see the gowns of the First Ladies—including Hillary Clinton’s.

The Arkansas State Capitol is a downsized version of the nation’s capitol, making it the perfect backdrop for such movies as Stone Cold.

Central High School, Little Rock
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Central High School, Little Rock

Little Rock is remembered for the civil rights crisis that shocked the nation and stigmatized the city half a century ago. Television, in its infancy, brought the angry mob outside Central High School into living rooms around the world when Governor Orval Faubus, who needed the segregationists’ vote, ordered the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering the formerly all-white school. President Eisenhower brought in Federal troops, and the city has struggled to overcome this characterization. September, 2007, marks the 50th anniversary of this event, and the city will celebrate the courage of the Little Rock Nine and the progress that has been made in eliminating separate systems of education for blacks and whites in observances attended by Presidents and other dignitaries from around the world.

cotton gin, Plantation Agricultural Museum in Scott, Arkansas
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cotton gin, Plantation Agricultural Museum in Scott, Arkansas

To learn more about rural life in the Plantation Era, visit the Plantation Agricultural Museum in Scott, Arkansas. Slave owning planters settled in the Arkansas Delta region in the early territorial years following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and the cotton plantation culture developed and flourished here in early 19th century.

Marlsgate Plantation, Little Rock, Arkansas
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Marlsgate Plantation, Little Rock, Arkansas

For a glimpse of the opulence of the Old South, take a tour along the past pecan groves and cypress trees to Marlsgate Plantation, one of the few remaining working cotton plantations. The 14,000 square foot Greek Revival mansion has been handed down with original furnishings to a single heir in each generation, and according to present owner David Gardner, decorated with the philosophy, “If you have it, spend it so people know you have it.” Marlsgate is listed in National Register of Historic Places and its furnishings were featured in the movie Evita.

ducks of the Peabody Hotel, Little Rock
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Peabody Hotel ducks, Little Rock

The best place to stay in Little Rock is The Peabody Hotel, with its world-class Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse. It is within walking distance of many attractions, and the River Rail electric streetcars stop footsteps away, connecting to the Clinton Library and Arkansas Historic Museums. It offers an ideal blend of luxury and levity, service is top-notch, and you won’t want to miss the red carpet procession when the ducks leave their crystal palace at 11 am to spend the day in the hotel foyer, then ride the glass elevators back again at 5pm.

The state is also known for its rejuvenating mineral springs, and one of the most famous and notorious is about an hour or so from Little Rock. If you are hungry, stop along the way at family-run Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant in Benton. Just follow the signs to exit 118. This award-winning restaurant is a local favorite and features a 100’ buffet for under $10. It’s all here–chicken ‘n dumplins, southern fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, hominy, black eyed peas, chicken fried steak, hushpuppies, and much more. Make your own Brown Cow, an old fashioned root bear float, in a frosted mug.

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