Historic Helena Commemorating Civil War Past

Unveiling May 11 of replica Fort Curtis is first step

(Helena, Ark.) The May 11, at 12 o’clock noon, dedication of a massive Union fort replica begins Helena’s Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration of a multi-faceted heritage that includes Federal occupation, seven Confederate generals, and an encampment of thousands of freed slaves.

The block-long reproduction of Fort Curtis completed at the corner of York and Columbia streets recalls the historic river city’s occupation by Federal troops from July 1862 through the Civil War’s end in 1865, as well as the Confederacy’s failed attempt on July 4, 1863, to return the city and its strategic position along the Mississippi River to Southern control. The Battle of Helena would leave 206 Union and 1,636 Confederate forces dead.

Today, many in the Delta community hope the fort and the interpretation of more than 27 other Civil War sites throughout Phillips County can act as a catalyst for economic growth through increased tourism. The May 11 event, slated to begin at noon, will include local and state officials, historians, re-enactors, and numerous civic leaders and members of the public focused on building the area’s future through closer attention to its heritage.

The United States is observing the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War through 2015. With an estimated 600, 000 men losing their lives, the four-year period marks the bloodiest period in the history of the nation.

Members of the Helena community are working together to become a Civil War tourism destination during the sesquicentennial, presenting the entire story of Civil War Helena through exhibits, restored and reproduced historic locations, and interpretive signage. The reproduction Union garrison will be the only replica fort of its kind in the region.

In 2005, a long-term strategic plan for Phillips County outlined options for economic development and identified the Civil War as one of the county’s most significant cultural heritage resources. Over the next three years, citizens and organizations came together, committed to formulating a plan focusing on the community’s heritage in an effort to make Helena and Phillips County a Civil War tourism destination.

In 2009, the plan was unveiled, giving voice to those affected by the Civil War – Union and Confederate, black and white, soldier and civilian, men and women. As the plan states, “It is a story of people who lived through our nation’s most trying time, a story woven from the unique thread of events that form Helena’s past and make it such a special place. It is a story of courage, passion, terror, death, hope, and sadness. It is a story some would rather forget, but it is an important story; it is Helena’s story and it should not be forgotten.”

During 2013, additional interpretive exhibits and signage will be placed throughout the historic city:

  • Freedom Park will feature five major exhibits that explore the African-American experience in Civil War Helena, following the progression from fugitive slave to Contraband to freedom, and, for some, enlistment in the Union Army.
  • Estevan Hall, the oldest remaining family structure in historic Helena, will serve as a Civil War Helena visitors’ center and provide guests with insight into how families were impacted by the Federal occupation of the city.
  • Other locations include the four batteries (A, B, C, and D) from 1863’s Battle of Helena – still clearly visible on Helena landscape; the Civil War era Moore-Horner House; the Helena Confederate Cemetery; Court Square Park; Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage; and Helena Museum of Phillips County.

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