Arrive and check-in at your hotel of choice. For a cozy bed and breakfast experience, we recommended the Edwardian Inn. For those who prefer a traditional hotel experience, we recommend the Best Western Hotel.
Head downtown for dinner at El Rio Lindo for margaritas and Mexican food. Afterwards take a stroll up to the Levee Walk to see the moon rise over the Mississippi. Interpretive panels along the Walk discuss the Yazoo Pass Expedition and changes Union occupation brought to Helena.
If you want to forgo your hotel breakfast, head to Kelly’s for a sausage and biscuit sandwich. They make their biscuits homemade every morning, so they’ll be hot and fresh.
Head to Cherry Street in downtown Helena to the Delta Cultural Center, a state museum, which features two locations with exhibits on the Civil War, the Mississippi River and the Delta Blues. The Center’s gift shop is a great place to pick up souvenirs.
While downtown, stroll north on Cherry Street to check out the downtown boutiques and stop by Thad Kelly Courtyard, a charming pocket park created in the footprint of a fallen building. Panels in the park examine recruiting in Helena, the formation of the 54th and 57th United States Colored Infantry regiments and why Freedmen chose to serve in the Union army. Continue walking north and you’ll reach Court Square Park, which features a reproduction cannon with an exhibit interpreting Phillips County’s Confederate soldiers and a bronze statue representing a student at Southland College, a Quaker school opened to educate African-American children orphaned by the war.
All that walking is bound to make you hungry. Stop at Granny Dee’s for friendly service and soul food recipes that have been passed down for generations. The buffet has a series of rotating offerings including greens, fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, and peach cobbler. Be careful – almost everyone who goes ends up eating until they’re stuffed!
Once you recover, check out New Fort Curtis, a ¾ replica of the original Union Fort Curtis. This earth works fort allows visitors to explore a Civil War fort firsthand, including the huge 24-pounder guns. Just behind the fort stands the Moore-Hornor Home, a house that predates the Civil War. The house served as a hospital following the battle, and features bullet holes in its parlor doors. (The Moore-Hornor Home is open by appointment only).
Drive down Columbia/Biscoe Street to the recently dedicated Freedom Park. Once the location of a Contraband camp, this park is dedicated to interpreting the African American experience during the war. The five exhibits feature life-sized figures and sculptures, and structures representing a plantation house and a refugee dwelling. Freedom Park is the first location in Arkansas designated as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.
Almost directly across the street stands Estevan Hall, possibly the longest standing structure in Philips County. Estevan served as a hospital during the war and is currently being renovated to serve as a welcome center for the city. An outdoor exhibit explains the history of the property and the family that lived in it for 170 years. (Due to renovation, Estevan Hall is currently closed to the public).
A few blocks back towards town, a beautiful exhibit interprets the history of St. Catherine Convent and Academy, the sisters of which cared for the wounded following the Battle of Helena.
For dinner, we suggest either the Bistro Bar & Grill or T-Mac’s. The Bistro’s sports bar atmosphere makes it a fun spot for drinks and a casual meal – we recommend the burger. T-Mac’s is known for their BBQ, which features their homemade sauce. Locals love the BBQ nachos.
After breakfast, head downtown to Helena River Park for stunning views of the Mississippi River and egrets if you’re lucky. A number of regiments, including the 9th Minnesota, camped here on the bank of the Mississippi.
Then drive to Magnolia Cemetery. The city’s African American cemetery is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. It features headstones of Civil War veterans, well-known philanthropist Eliza Miller and William Grey, one of the first black legislators in Arkansas.
Right on the other side of the hill is the Confederate Cemetery, located at the top of Maple Hill Cemetery. The location of the two cemeteries side by side is an incredibly unusual occurrence in the South. An exhibit near the Confederate Cemetery discusses the seven high-ranking Confederate officers from the Helena area, three of whom are buried here including General Patrick Cleburne.
For more on General Cleburne, a much beloved Civil War figure, stop by the outdoor exhibit and life-sized bronze statue at the Helena Museum.
On your way out of town, look for signs of the construction of additional Civil War Helena sites along Biscoe. 2014 promises to bring new attractions sure to tempt visitors to plan a return trip.