On Saturday, Aug. 29, Jacksonport State Park in Newport hosts a 50th birthday celebration in honor of the park’s creation in 1965. The day will feature guest speakers from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism as well as the Jackson County Historical Society, which played a major roll in the creation of Jacksonport State Park. Guests can also experience the Jacksonport of the 19th century, with a Civil War encampment and demonstrations of cannons, muskets and rifles. Also on tap are tours of the historic Jacksonport Courthouse Museum, which will display exhibits in honor of the birthday, as well as a special program highlighting the early history of Jacksonport. The event, which begins at 10 a.m., is free and open to the public.
In November 1961, a group of citizens gathered and formed the Jackson County Historical Society, an organization that would record and disseminate the history of the county. At the group’s second meeting, in January of 1962, it was announced that the old Jackson County Courthouse was scheduled to be demolished. Completed in 1872, the structure was built when Jacksonport was the county seat. For 20 years, the building was the center of justice. But the nearby river port of Newport flourished and the county seat was relocated there in 1892.
For 70 years the old courthouse had served as a school, cotton gin, the county poorhouse and grain storage. The structure was in poor condition, but the Jackson County Historical Society was determined to save the historic building. Over the next two years, the organization raised money to purchase and restore the courthouse. In January 1963, a bill was introduced to make the Jackson County Courthouse a state park. On March 29, 1963, the Arkansas State Senate approved the measure. On May 13, 1964, the Jackson County Historical Society turned over the deed for more than 15 acres of land surrounding the courthouse, as well as the courthouse itself, to the State of Arkansas and Arkansas State Parks. Work continued on the restoration of the courthouse and on June 5, 1965, the dedication and hard work put forth by the members of the Jackson County Historic Society paid off – Jacksonport State Park opened to the public amid fanfare, speeches, bands, and a visit by Governor Orval Faubus.
Since then, Jacksonport State Park has flourished and become a favorite with history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. The restored courthouse features exhibits that tell visitors the story of Jackson County and the historic courthouse. Outside, the park offers a unique camping experience, right alongside the White River. Visitors can stroll along the Tunstall Riverwalk Conservation Area, spying butterflies, birds and wildlife along the way.
The celebration on Aug. 29 is an opportunity to commemorate not only the creation of Jacksonport State Park, but also to honor the people responsible for saving the historic structure, the history of the courthouse and the community of Jacksonport. For more information, contact Jacksonport State Park at 870-523-2143.