Arkansas' capital city got a lot of attention in 1957 when federal troops were sent in to enforce a Supreme Court decision against segregation in public schools. In 2004, Little Rock made headlines for another reason: The opening and dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
Situated on 28 acres/11 hectares along the Arkansas River, the US$165-million center includes the Clinton Library, an award-winning steel-and-glass design. There, you can visit a replica of the Oval Office, see Bill and Hillary memorabilia or check out interactive exhibits, including one that tells you what was happening in the White House and around the world on each day of the Clinton administration. America's 12th presidential library, it has the largest archival collection on American presidential history in the country. From there you can take a trolley to the Old State House Museum, River Market District, North Little Rock or other attractions.
Despite the recent attention to the Clinton Library, the history that was made in 1957 at Central High School has not been forgotten. The Central High Museum, in a restored Mobil gas station across the street from the high school, allows visitors to examine that tumultuous event. Its displays document the events that began when nine African-American students were denied entry to the school by the Arkansas National Guard.
The Old State House Museum is an impressive 1836 Greek Revival structure that was the state's first capitol. It houses a collection of artifacts related to state history, as well as permanent and temporary exhibits on other topics related to Arkansas. You can also visit the current Capitol Building, which was modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The Historic Arkansas Museum (formerly the Arkansas Territorial Restoration) includes five houses that date from before the Civil War, which are staffed by guides in period dress. An attached facility exhibits a wide range of items made by Arkansas residents in the last two centuries, including both fine art and objects constructed for everyday use.
The Arkansas Arts Center operates two facilities. The main center in MacArthur Park includes a large collection of drawings, many by famous artists. The Decorative Arts Center is nearby. The River Market District near Riverfront Park contains a farmers market, restaurants, crafts vendors and brewpubs. The Museum of Discovery, which has science and history exhibits as well as a children's museum, is within easy walking distance.
The historic Quapaw Quarter is the oldest part of Little Rock and contains Victorian, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses. Quapaw is also where you'll find the 19th-century Villa Marre Home. If it looks familiar, you're probably remembering it from the TV series Designing Women: The house played the role of the women's office in exterior shots. Another landmark in town is the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, which has been in continuous operation since 1884.
North Little Rock sits directly across the Arkansas River from Little Rock. There, you can visit the USS Razorback, a World War II-vintage submarine. You might also want to spend a few hours relaxing at Burns Park. At more than 1,500 acres/600 hectares, it's one of the country's largest municipal green spaces. North Little Rock is also known for its Old Mill, a building that appeared in the movie Gone With the Wind.
Toltec Mounds State Park, about 20 mi/32 km southeast of Little Rock, encompasses one of the largest ceremonial-mound sites in the lower Mississippi Valley. Built between AD 700 and 1000, the mounds tower more than 40 ft/12 m. (Despite their name, they were not built by the Toltecs of Mexico but by the Native Americans of the Mississippian culture.)
Annual events in the area include the Arkansas State Fair in mid-October and the Christmas Frolic and Open House at the Historic Arkansas Museum in early December.
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