Travel to Historic Little Rock
…..where the past comes alive and the present beckons.
By Heather Barnes
The Arkansas Traveler is a fine example of one of the state’s most famous folkloric legends. Later made into a famous comedy play that toured the south, the story begins with an 1840s, cantankerous, backwoods Arkansas squatter who relaxes barefoot beside his run-down shack, playing the fiddle.
When the Traveler requests directions, the squatter is not the least bit helpful. But, as the old fiddler repeats the same couple of musical lines over and over, the Traveler inquires as to why he doesn’t finish the song. The old man says that he can’t remember the second half. Wherefore, the Traveler borrows the fiddle and completes the second part of the song. This brings great hospitality to the tired Traveler--suddenly afforded a place to sleep in a dry corner of the shack, food and directions.
CULTURE & SHOPPING
Traveling to Arkansas no longer requires such strategic musical know-how. Whether you are looking for culture, history, shopping, fine dining, children’s activities, or musical trivia, Little Rock has something in store for all.
Once a slumbering city filled with abandoned storefronts along the Arkansas River, Little Rock has become a booming city with upscale hotels, trendy shops, museums with an intrigue to all ages, theatres, and a bustling River Market District a stone’s throw from the river.
When strolling through the downtown area, you will be struck by the innate kindness of the locals. A down-home friendly southern drawl is sure to greet you wherever you traverse. To Little Rockians, you are not just a tourist; you are a part of the family. It’s big city convenience with small-town appeal, which truly sets Little Rock apart from some larger and more crowded cosmopolitan cities.
Begin with Arkansas’ past and work your way to the present. Immerse yourself in 200 years of history at the Old State House Museum , the oldest standing capital building west of the Mississippi. View a wide array of exhibits from political memorabilia, Civil War battle flags, a musical history exhibit and an impressive collection of gowns from former first ladies.
Historic Arkansas Museum features local history at its best with many traveling exhibits relevant to the state. Read about Arkansas’ folklore and view illustrations of "The Traveler". The oldest Arkansas home still stands in this very location along with a pre-civil war neighborhood where you can step back into time and interact with living-history characters.
The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is a must see for an up-close glimpse into Arkansas’ military history. The 3-foot thick brick tower which houses the memorabilia, is the only structure left standing from a former 1840’s U.S. arsenal, the very site of the birth of General Douglas MacArthur in 1880. Little Rock Tours can take you to a nineteenth century neighborhood called the Quapaw Quarter with fine restorations of southern homes and plantations including the Governor‘s Mansion. Travel forward now in time and visit the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, the significant battleground in the fight for civil rights. Follow the trail of the Little Rock Nine who attempted to enter the all-white school in 1957.
The Visitor Center is an old Mobil service station right across the street from the high school. Learn about a part of America’s most critical civil right’s history through the exhibit, "All the World Is Watching Us: Little Rock and the 1957 Crisis." The Arkansas Arts Center will take you into the present and beyond with it’s outstanding works from all around the country including traveling exhibitions and work from local artisans. Visit on a Thursday at 1 p.m. and enjoy a free Docent-led tour.
One suggested accommodation during your visit is the The Peabody Little Rock. Sequestered on the banks of the Arkansas River, and centrally located in town, this 4 star luxury hotel is famous for it’s daily red-carpet duck parade. Fun and contemporary—the perfect choice for the entire family. Seetheir current "Special Offers" at: www.PeabodyLittleRock.com . Address: Three Statehouse Plaza. Call (501)906-4000 for more info.
FOOD & MUSIC: RIVER MARKET DISTRICT
When you feel like just relaxing for a few hours with little on your agenda, stroll the River Market District . A smorgasbord of restaurants awaits hungry shoppers as well as a delectable bakery with some pretty fantastic home-made cookies. At night, the River Market transforms into an urban nightlife of dueling piano bars and bustling restaurants. Enjoy local jazz musicians as they strike a chord in the open night air aside the river.
As the Arkansas River is long, so is the list of Little Rock attractions which can easily take several days of exploration. The opening of the River Market in 1996 has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of tourists who discover hidden charms and places of historical significance. Little Rock, without doubt, is the heartbeat of the state. Folklore blends with reality as you bask in the warmth and friendliness of the locals who seem to love their visitors as much as their city.
Tourism Info: www.arkansas.com .
The Old State House Museum: www.oldstatehouse.com 300 West Markham.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Free. 501/324-9684.
Historic Arkansas Museum: www.arkansashistory.com 200 E. Third Street
Hours 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5p.m. Free for museum center; Tour of home: $2.50 adults, $1.50 seniors over 65 $1 children under 18. 501/324-9351.
MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History: http://www.arkmilitaryheritage.com 503 E. Ninth,
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Closed Monday. Free; donations accepted. 501/376-4602.
Little Rock Tours: www.littlerocktours.com , 501/TOURBUS
Central High School National Historic Site: www.nps.gov/chsc 2125 Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, 501/374-1957.
Arkansas Arts Center: www.arkarts.com 501 East Ninth Street.
Heather Barnes is a freelance writer who lives in the Bay Area. This is her first story for BAFT.
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