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The Southwest Trail of Arkansas

Updated: Sep 8, 2023


Map snip Arkansas post offices 1840s
The military road that ran from Memphis to Fulton, and specifcially the road from Little Rock to Fulton, is now called the Southwestern Trail (1840s, LOC).

One of the oldest roads in the Red River Valley was the Tennessee to Washington (Hempstead County, Arkansas) to Fulton (Hempstead County) trail that was formed along a geological ridge line. Before American settlement, the trace was an aboriginal path to salt “mines” (actually, places where salt could be sieved and collected) and to the Caddoan settlements along the Red River, specifically the Nasoni villages.


Now called the “Southwest Trail” by Arkansas heritage tourism promoters, the trace witnessed pioneers, stage coaches, traders, trafficked people, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Union troops moving towards Indian Territory and Texas. Due to its political role in the 1820s and 1830s, this path is also known as the Choctaw Trail of Tears.


The centuries of use has “sunken” the trail in some spots. The sunken trace is best seen on the northern side of Washington‘s Franklin Street. Today, the trail north of Washington is very hard to follow – a lot of the “old southwest Arkansas” between Washington and Blevins was leveled in the 1940s to make way for a military proving grounds.


The old trail ran from Tennessee to Little Rock to Washington to Fulton. If you want to travel the original route of the old trail – called the Southwest Trail now to entice motor tourists – you can drive AR 195 from Fulton to Washington.

Road
The sunken part of the old trail can be viewed on the north side of Washington along Franklin Street. On the right side of the photograph stand the 1830s’ era courthouse, wonderfully restored.
Washington Tavern better
Speaking of restoration… in the 1930s – prior to the erection of the proving grounds to the north of Washington – many of the town’s historic, antebellum structures remained standing, albeit in a state of disrepair. This old tavern, at the intersection of Franklin and Columbus streets, once served the likes of Sam Houston. The federal government photographed and documented the historic structure as part of a WPA program.
Tavern
Today, the tavern has been restored to its original look (as best as could be) through the generous donations and hard work of Hempstead County citizens. Washington was once the county seat of Hempstead, Arkansas but lost the status when the railroad developed Hope and built the station and town. The whole town, which is home to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Arkives (<– get it?) is now a state park.
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