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.
After breakfast use your GPS (or old school map) to drive to Old Town Lake, a beautiful oxbow lake located in Lake View right off Highway 44. A boardwalk extends right into the middle of the lake and is the perfect spot for a morning spent fishing or simply enjoying the beauty of the Cypress trees that rise from the water. On your way you’ll drive through the soy, rice and corn fields that define the Delta region.
As you head back into town, stop at Ray’s Dairy Maid for lunch. Featured on the Food Network for their pecan coconut pie, Ray’s serves up American classics at their best.
Drive towards the downtown on Highway 49 Bypass until you reach 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).
Continue towards on Biscoe/Columbia Street to 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).
From here, head to Cherry St, to the Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The center has two main properties to visit downtown, the Depot and the Visitors Center. The Depot houses exhibits on the Civil War and the Mississippi River. The Visitors Center features the broadcast facilities for King Biscuit Time, the longest running blues radio show in the nation, and is a great place to pick up souvenirs.
While downtown, stroll north on Cherry Street to check out the downtown boutiques. Antiques hound? Don’t miss Gracious Living, a veritable treasure trove of collectables. Looking for a unique gift to take home? We recommend stopping by Handworks, Cotton & Kudzu and Delta Gypsy.
On your walk, make sure to wander through the two downtown parks, Thad Kelly Courtyard and Court Square Park. Thad Kelly is 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. Court Square Park 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.
For dinner, we suggest either Kelly’s or T-Mac’s. Kelly’s is a local and much beloved diner. We suggest ordering the fried fish platter, the large order is enough to feed a small army. 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. The park was also the site of the Gunboat Tyler.
If you attend church, we encourage you to join a service at one of our historic churches. Of particular note are St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church. St. Mary’s was designed by Charles Eames in1935; Eames is a well-known American designer famous for the “Eames chair”. St. John’s Church was originally founded in Helena in 1861, however the current structure was built in 1914 and is an example of the Old English style of architecture. The narthex features beautiful glass windows, one of which, a Tiffany window, was salvaged from a church fire in 1914.
If you’d prefer to spend your last hours exploring, drive to the Confederate Cemetery located at the top of a hill within Maple Hill Cemetery. 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 Mississippi River.
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.