I'm often asked for a one-day itinerary that will provide an overview of how Arkansas developed through the decades. That's almost impossible to accomplish in a single day. But if limited to one day, a trip from Little Rock to Stuttgart and back is as good as it gets. That route will allow you to combine educational stops with good eating, a requirement for all of my road trips.
By 9 a.m., you should be at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park near Scott. After your visit there, double back a few miles to Scott and take in the Plantation Agriculture Museum, which also is operated by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. By the time you're finished touring the museum, the lunch hour will have arrived. Cotham's at Scott is unfortunately gone due to a fire, but Seaton's Scott Place on U.S. 165 offers everything from catfish to barbecue to daily lunch specials. Don't eat dessert. You're saving room for that at the next stop as you head south on U.S. 165.
Be sure to make it to Charlotte's Eats & Sweets in Keo in advance of the 2 p.m. closing time. Charlotte's, which has been around since 1993, is in a downtown building that housed a pharmacy years ago when Keo served thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers who lived on surrounding cotton plantations. If you want a particular dessert, it's wise to call ahead and reserve it. You can't go wrong, though, with whatever pies and cakes are left once you arrive.
Continue your trip on U.S. 165 through England, Allport and Humnoke. You're passing some of the most valuable farming and duck-hunting land in Arkansas. Your destination is Stuttgart. Drive around the Grand Prairie town before making your way to the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie. There's enough there to keep you occupied until the museum closes, though you might want to leave shopping time at the massive Mack's Prairie Wings on the edge of town. Supper can be Cajun food at either La Petite Cajun Bistro on Main Street in Stuttgart or Gautreaux's (if it's a Thursday, Friday or Saturday) on the highway in England.
Your day starts at Toltec Mounds because it gives you a sense of the pre-European period in the state. Louis Bringier, a French explorer who came north from New Orleans, was the first European to write about the mounds in the early 1800s. He described the site's "tolerably regular" alignment and the height of the two tallest mounds. Native Americans built the mounds between 650 and 1050 AD. Archaeologists refer to them as having been a part of the Plum Bayou Culture.
"This culture cannot be identified with any of the tribes living in the area in the 1700s," Martha Ann Rolingson writes for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. "The site was situated on the bank of an oxbow lake that was part of a channel abandoned by the Arkansas River. Three sides of the site were bounded by a ditch and 10-foot-high earthen embankment. The site was the primary religious center for the people who lived in the countryside. Only a few of the religious leaders lived at the site, but it was used for ceremonies. Plum Bayou people were farmers who grew domesticated plants, mainly maygrass, little barley, amaranth and cenopodium. They hunted deer, turkey and other animals as well as fished, and gathered nuts and wild plants."
Eighteen mounds were arranged around two rectangular open spaces that were used for ceremonies. William Peay Officer and his wife Mary Eliza purchased the property in 1849 and operated the Lake Mound Plantation. After her husband died, Mary Eliza remarried Gilbert Knapp. In 1876, she contacted Joseph Henry, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to see if there might be any interest in exploring the site. The Smithsonian sent Edward Palmer to Arkansas. He erroneously identified the site as having been associated with the Toltec Indians of Central America, but the name stuck. The land was farmed until 1975 when the state acquired it. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1978, and the state park opened to the public in 1980.
The Plantation Agriculture Museum gives the visitor a sense of the area's later history. Its displays will drive home the fact that cotton played a huge role in the state's history for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
William Scott came to the area from Kentucky. His son, Conoway Scott Sr., was born in 1815. By 1862, the family owned almost 2,000 acres. Conoway Scott Jr. built a large brick building to house a general store in 1912. That building is now the main part of the museum. A post office wing was added in 1929 and remained in use until the 1960s when plantation owner Robert Dortch and his daughter, Floride Dortch Rebsamen, transformed it into a private museum. The museum closed in 1978, six years after Robert Dortch's death. Then-state Rep. Bill Foster of England led efforts for a state takeover of the property. The state facility opened in June 1989.
In Stuttgart, the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie's exhibits will take the visitor from the cotton era to the modern rice era. The museum also has displays on the importance of duck hunting on the Grand Prairie. The museum opened in 1974, and there have been four additions through the years. The facility, which has more than 15,000 artifacts, now will serve as the home of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame, which inducted its second class last November.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 02/14/2018
Print Headline: To Stuttgart and back