It’s not every day you celebrate your 185th anniversary, but that’s what the state of Arkansas is doing! On June 15, 1836, Arkansas became the 25th state, marking a new era in our history. While things sure have changed over the last 185 years, visitors to downtown Little Rock can get a feel for what life was like in the 1800’s and beyond at several local museums.
At the Historic Arkansas Museum, step back in time to walk the streets of territorial Arkansas and discover the museum’s collection of 19th century buildings. A blacksmith shop, farmstead and a grog shop are just a few of the structures that are open daily. Living history actors and indoor exhibits detailing territorial life in Arkansas add to the experience making the museum a must-see stop for history lovers wishing to celebrate not only Arkansas’s 185th birthday, but the years in between!
Just a few blocks away, see what it was like to be a legislator during the early days of statehood at the Old State House Museum, the oldest standing state capitol building west of the Mississippi River. Housed in the state’s first capitol building, the museum focuses on Arkansas history with exhibits ranging from the gowns of Arkansas’s First Ladies to intricate handmade quilts stretching back to the Civil War. The House of Representatives Chamber has been restored to its appearance from the 1840s and museum visitors are invited to walk through the desks and imagine themselves as early Arkansas legislators.
While there, check out the brand new “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum” that provides a nostalgic look back at concerts performed at this historic venue from the 1950s to today. Performers such as B.B. King, Tina Turner, Elvis, Motley Crue, Dolly Parton and many more give an entertaining walk down memory lane.
The history and culture of African Americans in Arkansas is celebrated and preserved at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The museum takes its name from the Mosaic Templars of America, a black fraternal organization founded in Little Rock in the years following the Civil War. Exhibits include features on Little Rock’s “Little Harlem” West Ninth Street — once a hub for African American-owned businesses in Little Rock — and on the changing lives of black Arkansas in the years after emancipation through to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
A must-see temporary exhibit is “The Negro Motorist Green Book” exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with award-winning author, photographer and cultural documentarian, Candacy Taylor, offers an immersive look at the reality of travel for African Americans in mid-century America and how the annual guide served as an indispensable resource for the nation’s rising African American middle class and evidence of a vibrant business class.
As the only National Park that is also a fully operational high school, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is literal living history. Walk in the footsteps of the Little Rock Nine, the first African American students to integrate the school in 1957. Guided tours by National Park Rangers wind through the halls of the high school and through the annals of history during tours of this historic institution.
Arkansas was thrust onto a global stage with the election of Bill Clinton as the 42nd president of the United States in 1992. The Clinton Presidential Center’s museum follows his journey from boyhood in Hope, Arkansas, to his eight years in the White House. Exhibit highlights include exact replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. The summer-long exhibit “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” is public art with a purpose, featuring 26 beautiful globes that vividly present solutions to climate change and make it clear…we can solve this. Each of the massive globes was created by a different artist, including four brand new globes designed by local creatives.
If you ever thought history was maybe not for you, or just a little on the dry side, Little Rock is here to show you otherwise. Come see us and make some history of your own.