Maybe you’ve passed them while on a road trip or maybe you’ve seen the plaques around town but never stopped to read them. Well, I’m here to tell you that in the same way that life is better if you stop and smell the roses, it’s also better if you stop and read the historical markers! Different groups will place panels near places of significance, and I find they often go unnoticed and underappreciated. However, taking the time to read about the details of the occasions commemorated on these tablets gives you insight into Arkansas history, which can sometimes be informative, interesting or even downright quirky.
Here are 11 of my favorite historical markers that showcase unique events that happened right here in the Natural State.
- The Chicken of Tomorrow. This marker can be found in front of the John W. Tyson building on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. It marks the Arkansas poultry industry and the “Chicken of Tomorrow” awards program which featured U.S. Vice President Alben Barkley in 1951, and later the creation of the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science.
- The Birthplace of Spring Baseball. Located in front of the Alligator Farm in Hot Springs, this marker discusses Hot Springs as the spring training headquarters for major league baseball in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. This marker is also a bonus as it’s sort of the trailhead for self-guided tours of the Hot Springs Baseball Trail.
- Pioneering Legislators. In Dr. Maya Angelou Memorial Park in Stamps, you’ll find a marker detailing three trail-blazing African-American lawmakers. There were two men who represented Lafayette County in the state Legislature after the Civil War, both who were born slaves, became free men, and served their communities in state government – Monroe Hawkins and Conway Barbour. This marker also gives information about Marshall Murray, a professor who served in the House in 1883.
- Fort Smith Biscuit Company. In front of the United States Attorney’s Office, you’ll find a plaque commemorating the former location of the Fort Smith Biscuit Company, which began production back in 1903. It may seem to be inconsequential, but this company helped shape Fort Smith into a gateway to the West with manufacturing.
- Bayou Metre Hornets. In Jacksonville, at Bayou Metre Cemetery, you’ll find a sign detailing the Civil War Battalion called the ‘Bayou Metre Hornets” who fought at several battles during the war. Eight different battalion members are buried in this cemetery.
- Hattie W. Caraway. Just east of the Craighead County Courthouse in Jonesboro is a marker honoring Hattie W. Carraway, who was quite the female pioneer. She was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first woman to chair a Senate committee, and the first to preside over a senate hearing.
- Hernando de Soto. A historical marker honoring the Spanish explorer is located in Union County on Highway 167 and West Main street in Calion. It says that de Soto wintered on this ridge in 1542 where the first Christian religious service was celebrated.
- Civil War Healing. At 23 S. Main in Eureka Springs, you can read this historical marker telling about this area as a Civil War health resort for soldiers attempting to quickly recover. You can read about their healing and then go visit some of the supposed healing springs yourself.
- The Last Encampment of the Trail of Tears. In front of the Fort Smith National Cemetery, there is a stone historical marker telling of the last Cherokee Camp during the journey known as the “Trail of Tears.”
- First Railroad Chartered in Arkansas. Just off Highway 65S between Lake Village and McGhee, you’ll find a plaque telling about the Mississippi, Red River and Ouachita Railroad Company which was created in 1952. While the Civil War impeded original construction plans taking the line from the Mississippi River to Texas, they ended up with one train making a round trip every day from Eunice to Bowie Station in Halley.
- The Loss of the Sultana. The Sultana was a steamboat that exploded on the Mississippi River near Marion in 1865. You can find a historical marker marking the loss can be found on Highway 77 north of Military Road in Marion. You can learn about the passengers, over 2000, who were overcrowded on this boat, of which 1500 died during this – the worst tragedy in American nautical history.
These are a small sampling of the historical markers you can find across the state. Don’t be afraid to pull over on the highway to stand on the side of the road to read more about our history. You can find locations of many historical markers on these online databases: