FREEDOM PARK AND ESTEVAN HALL
A stroll through this scenic park is the perfect introduction to Helena’s unique Civil War history. Once the location of a Contraband camp, this park is dedicated to interpreting the African American experience during the war. Freedom Park is the first location in Arkansas designated as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.
Almost directly across the street from Freedom Park, Estevan Hall is 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).
NEW FORT CURTIS AND THE MOORE-HORNOR HOME
New Fort Curtis is 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).
LUNCH FROM CORNER MARKET AT THE HELENA RIVER PARK
If you’re only in town for a day, it’s best to use every minute wisely. Swing by Corner Market for to grab lunch to go. Their sandwiches are arguably the best in town; you’ll know you’ve found it when you see the tiny shop’s overflowing parking lot. Take your lunch out the end of the boardwalk at Helena River Park. Sit back and take in the beauty of the Mississippi River from the shade of the surrounding birch trees. The park was the site of the Gunboat Tyler during the war and served as a campground for a number of regiments including the 9th Minnesota.
DOWNTOWN CHERRY ST
If the weather is nice, park on one end of the street for a relaxed stroll through the historic downtown. Starting at the southernmost end are the Delta Cultural Center’s two properties, the Depot and the Visitors Center. The Depot’s second floor features an exhibit on the Civil War and the Visitors Center is a great place to pick up souvenirs.
Continuing down the street be sure to stop to shop at the many downtown boutiques including: Handworks, Gracious Living, Gist Music, Cotton & Kudzu, and Delta Gypsy. Wander into 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.
HELENA MUSEUM AND GENERAL CLEBURNE BRONZE
Helena Museum has been fondly referred to as “grandma’s attic” due to its impressive and expansive collection. A diorama of the Battle of Helena, Thomas Hindman’s desk and Patrick Cleburne’s prayer book bring Helena’s Civil War story vividly to life. Outside on the lawn stands a life sized bronze statue of General Cleburne with an accompanying outdoor exhibit.
MAGNOLIA CEMETERY AND CONFEDERATE CEMETERY
Magnolia Cemetery is the city’s African American cemetery. 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. If you’re lucky, as you drive down the hill towards to the exit you’ll catch a glance of the sun hanging low over the Mississippi River.
DINNER AT BURGER SHACK OR EL RIO LINDO
If you’re heading out of town, drive by Burger Shack for burgers and fries to-go. Make sure to order one of the “Best Cokes in town” flavored with one of their many syrup options.
If you’re staying, grab dinner downtown at El Rio Lindo. Known for their homemade salsa, chicken soup and full bar, it’s the perfect spot to unwind with a margarita. If you’re lucky, they might let you sit on their second floor balcony which overlooks downtown Cherry St.