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Digging for History at Old Washington

Mary L. Kwas

Publication Year: 2009

Positioned along the legendary Southwest Trail, the town of Washington in Hempstead County in southwest Arkansas was a thriving center of commerce, business, and county government in the nineteenth century. Historical figures such as Davy Crockett and Sam Houston passed through, and during the Civil War, when the Federal troops occupied Little Rock, the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington served as the seat of state government. A prosperous town fully involved in the events and society of the territorial, antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras, Washington became in a way frozen in time by a series of events including two fires, a tornado, and being bypassed by the railroad in 1874. Now an Arkansas State Park and National Historic Landmark, Washington has been studied by the Arkansas Archeological Survey over the past twenty-five years. Digging for History at Old Washington joins the historical record with archaeological findings such as uncovered construction details, evidence of lost buildings, and remnants of everyday objects. Of particular interest are the homes of Abraham Block, a Jewish merchant originally from New Orleans, and Simon Sanders from North Carolina, who became the town’s county clerk. The public and private lives of the Block and Sanders families provide a fascinating look at an antebellum town at the height of its prosperity.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press


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pp. vi-vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Washington, Arkansas, an uncommon place, began as a bit of sandy high ground where five trails intersected. The land itself led people to this place, and some stayed. One of those five trails became a major route from the western edge of the United States, to its southwest territories and to Spanish Tejas (Texas). ...

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p. xiii

My thanks are due many people who helped me in bringing this volume to completion. The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council (ANCRC) generously funded the initial research and writing. Archivists in both Arkansas and other states continue ...

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1. The Historic Town of Washington

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pp. 1-14

A visit to Historic Washington State Park provides a fascinating glimpse into Arkansas’s past. Visitors can walk along the same unpaved streets that were laid out in the early nineteenth century, see houses that were built over 150 years ago, and enjoy the shade of ...

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2. Why Do Archeology at a Historic Park?

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pp. 15-22

We live in an age of information glut. The tools that our technology has provided us—myriad channels of cable television, instant communication with cell phones, radio, newspapers, books, and especially the Internet—make it seem that there is ...

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3. Pioneer Washington, 1823–1841: The Block Family

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pp. 23-43

The first archeological fieldwork was undertaken at Historic Washington State Park in 1980 as part of the research for developing a master plan for management of the park and its historic properties. The testing project was conducted over just two days ...

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4. The Archeology of Pioneer Washington, 1823–1841: The Block House

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pp. 44-66

The four lots on which the Block House sits with its surrounding yard, known collectively as Block 19 (from the original town plat), have been archeologically investigated seven different times over a 20-year period by the Arkansas Archeological Survey. Several of these ...

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5. Spanning the Years from Pioneer to Mature Washington: The 1836 Courthouse and 1839 Clerk’s Office

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pp. 67-77

In 1819 the Arkansas Territory was formed from a division of the Missouri Territory, originally acquired by the United States in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The new territory had already been divided into five large counties, of which Hempstead—formed ...

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6. Mature Washington, 1842–1874: Simon T. Sanders and the Meredith Clan

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pp. 78-96

In less than 20 years, the town of Washington had grown from a pioneer settlement to a bustling county seat—a center of law, business, and commerce for southwest Arkansas. As the town grew in importance, it attracted more settlers, who brought ...

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7. The Archeology of Mature Washington,1842–1874: The Sanders House

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pp. 97-117

The four lots on which the Sanders House sits with its surrounding yard, known collectively as Block 32, have been archeologically investigated three times since 1980. All the work was conducted by the Arkansas Archeological Survey for Historic Washington State ...

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8. Final Thoughts and Future Questions

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pp. 118-122

Through a combination of archeological and historical research, we have gotten to know two prominent families of early Washington, Arkansas. Their lives were similar in many respects, as they were joined by the culture of their times and through the opportunities and trials of their place in history. Their ...


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pp. 123-129


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pp. 131-135

E-ISBN-13: 9781610751247
E-ISBN-10: 1610751248
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557288981
Print-ISBN-10: 1557288984

Page Count: 170
Illustrations: 79 color photographs, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 769187847
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Digging for History at Old Washington

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Washington (Hempstead County, Ark.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
  • Historic buildings -- Arkansas -- Washington (Hempstead County).
  • Washington (Hempstead County, Ark.) -- Antiquities.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Arkansas -- Washington (Hempstead County).
  • Washington (Hempstead County, Ark.) -- Biography.
  • Historic sites -- Arkansas -- Washington (Hempstead County).
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