Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours of the best Little Rock Museums. I’ve never heard anyone suggest spending 24 hours in Little Rock, Arkansas or visiting Little Rock museums. Most Americans, if they think about Little Rock, Arkansas at all, think of two things.
One is that it is where Bill Clinton lived before he became President of the United States. The second is that it is where President Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to force Central High School to integrate during the 1950s.
Both of these facts are essential to understanding Arkansas history. However, Little Rock, Arkansas is also a thriving capital city that receives millions of tourists each year. Join me for 24 hours in Little Rock seeing those Little Rock museums and we will party like it’s 1999 and dine like it’s 1988. Let’s go!
24 Hours: Little Rock Museums
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Arkansas can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
And if you want to find great deals on many hotels in Little Rock, just click here.
24 Hours: Little Rock Museums
Morning: Bill Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
Since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the tradition, each President has been given a Presidential library. Yes, even Richard Nixon has a Presidential Library in California. I’ve only been to two (Clinton and Carter’s) but it’s my goal to hit them all some day. Except for someone like Kennedy, who died in office, the presidents generally choose the location for their library.
Of course Bill Clinton selected Little Rock, where he served as Governor of Arkansas, to serve as the home for his Presidential Library and Museum. (Officially it’s called the William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.) Apparently he selected the location downtown to boost tourism in the area. According to the docents, the library’s location has helped revitalize downtown Little Rock. So it’s the perfect place to start our 24 hours with Little Rock museums.
There’s plenty of criticisms to make of President Clinton. Heck, I’ve made plenty of them myself. But you won’t find much mention of them at the Presidential Library. The Clinton PLAM is a place to celebrate the best of the man, so for the moment I shall follow suit and show you…
three fun facts: William Jefferson Clinton
1) can you speak of his childhood?
You begin your visit to the Clinton Library by watching a short film about Clinton’s life before he became President. Clinton is sometimes nicknamed “The Man From Hope” because he was literally born in a town called Hope, Arkansas. His supporters saw him as a figurative Man From Hope because they hoped his youth and ideas would help reinvigorate the economy. (The American economy did experience strong growth during the Clinton administrations.)
From an early age, Clinton was interested in politics. I especially enjoyed seeing this photo of a teenage Clinton meeting President John F Kennedy pictured in what I think is a yearbook. Many people drew parallels between Kennedy and Clinton because they were both young when elected, and they were both center-left politicians. (Also they both liked the ladies.)
Of course Kennedy grew up wealthy in New England, while Clinton was a hardscrabble Southerner, and Kennedy died young while Clinton is still kicking it in his 70s. So the parallels aren’t perfect.
2) how did his political career start?
I didn’t know that much about Clinton’s time as Governor of Arkansas before visiting this museum. Mostly I was surprised that Arkansas had elected a Democrat as Governor. Arkansas is generally a “Red” or “Republican” state. But in fact, Arkansas has had quite a few Democratic governors, even as recently as 2015.
My favorite Clinton story was about his first term as Governor of Arkansas in the early 80s. According to Clinton, he did not win reelection for governor in 1981 because many Arkansasans were angry with him for raising car license fees. In the video, Clinton related a tale about a man who had voted against Clinton in the 81 election over the car license issue.
However, this same man said he’d vote for Clinton in future elections because, “We’re even now.” It’s possible this story just about sums Arkansas up. (For the curious, Clinton ran again for Governor of Arkansas in 1983 and served two terms before becoming President.)
3) why did he want to be president
It’s good to be the President if you like living large. One of the exhibits in the library is dedicated to all of the events and parties the President and First Lady need to host each year. You can see everything from gifts from various heads of state to the menu used when President and Mrs. Clinton hosted Czech President Vaclav Havel and his wife. Pheasant Consomme was definitely involved.
Getting to see the gifts and goodies people shower the President with can be rather overwhelming. My favorite was this glass Dale Chihuly sculpture created for the White House’s Millennium Party. Just keep in mind that the President is not actually allowed to keep expensive gifts. The law is that the gifts need to go to the National Archives or the Presidential Library. We wouldn’t want there to be any corruption in politics, now would we?
24 Hour Treasure
Hands down the cutest thing in the museum is this drawing of the movie High Noon that Clinton did as a child. How lucky someone knew he would be President someday and kept it! I have kept all my childhood scribbles so that they can go directly into a museum when I am queen.
24 Hour Treat: Lunch at @ the Corner
If you’re anything like me, learning so much about President Clinton will make you hungry for fried food! It’s that time in our 24 hours with Little Rock museums for lunch. And fortunately for us, there’s an adorable diner called @ the Corner serving modern versions of Southern breakfast and lunch classics.
Using the @ symbol instead of the word At is obviously designed to attract a younger clientele. I can just imagine an Arkansas meemaw standing on the corner for hours trying to figure out what @ means.
But no one needs to be confused about the quality of this moist fried chicken! I know it’s a cliche, but fried chicken and barbecue are just so much better down South than they are anywhere else. I don’t know why I bother trying to order them back home in New York City.
24 Hours: Little Rock Museums
Afternoon: Historic Arkansas Museum
Of course, Arkansas history goes back way further than William Jefferson Clinton. I have to give Little Rock museums their props because I can hardly think of a more thorough and all encompassing state history museum than the Historic Arkansas Museum. We will continue our 24 hours in Little Rock here.
You can take a tour of the homes in the living history museum for a small fee. There’s also a free museum center featuring art and artifacts all from Arkansas. Finally, there’s a museum store where you can purchase made in Arkansas goods like soap made from Muscadine grapes. I’m sure you’ll agree that the Historic Arkansas Museum is full of more than…
three facts about arkansas history
1) what’s the best house?
One of the most notable historic houses in the living history museum is the Brownlee House. This home was built in the 1840s by Robert Brownlee. He was a Scottish architect who is most famous for designing the Old Arkansas State House (which we will visit tomorrow). Brownlee actually designed this home for his brother, James Brownlee.
However, the Brownlee brothers eventually had a falling out over slavery. Robert was opposed to slavery, but James was a slave owner. The people who actually lived in the Brownlee House were James, his wife, and Tabby, an enslaved woman.
2) um what is this?
The Woodruff Print Shop is one of the more fascinating homes in the living history museum. It used to house Arkansas’s first newspaper, The Arkansas Gazette. The Gazette was founded by a New Yorker named William Woodruff all the way back in the 1820s.
See! We have one New Yorker who gave Arkansas its first newspaper. And now we have another New Yorker (me) visiting Little Rock, an event which I’m sure will end up being just as important to the state. The wheel of history, she is always turning.
Our docent told us that young apprentices would have come to learn to set the type on this machine and help print the Gazette. Unfortunately once the apprentices were trained, there wouldn’t have been enough jobs for them, so many would just have gone straight back to farming. So I guess the tradition of young people not being able to find adequate employment in media has a long and noble tradition in this country.
3) who were the enslaved people?
In the 1800s, more than 100 enslaved people lived in the historic homes that now make up the Historic Arkansas living history museum. An employee of Historic Arkansas named Curtis Tate wanted to create a memorial to all of the enslaved people. Unfortunately it has been very difficult to learn all of their names. People did not keep careful records of the names of enslaved persons. The project reached another stumbling block when Tate died tragically young.
Fortunately the museum did not give up, and this memorial plaque to the enslaved people of Little Rock (and Tate himself) is now placed next to the historic homes.
24 Hour Treasure: Native American Sampler
The Historic Arkansas Museum has an impressive collection of Arkansas made fine art and historic artifacts. The museum center is free, and you can easily spend a good portion of your 24 hours in Little Rock inside. Exhibits change regularly, but my favorite piece is this Native American sampler, which is part of the permanent collection.
The sampler was created by a Cherokee girl named Nancy Graves in the 1800s. She was a student at the Dwight Mission School. This was one of the schools founded to “Americanize” Native Americans and convert them to Christianity. I wonder what happened to Miss Graves after she made this sampler? Of course, it’s more than likely, given the time period in which she lived, that she was forcibly removed to Oklahoma.
One of the oddest things about this sampler to me is that it says the piece was “wrought” by Nancy Graves instead of “made” by Nancy Graves. If there’s a word I didn’t particularly imagine people in Arkansas using very often, it’s “wrought”. But then travel is expanding my worldview every day.
24 Hours: Little Rock Museums
Evening: Samantha’s Taproom and Wood Grill
The 1980s were a magical time in New York City. The Knicks had Patrick Ewing, Harry was meeting Sally, and a little girl named Stella Jane (aka me!) was born. My parents were both food lovers, so I started going to restaurants at a tender age, and I was never one to order off of the children’s menu.
So I fondly remember certain items it was always possible to find on New York City restaurant menus in the late 80s-early 90s. (Goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes for savory dishes! Tiramisu and raspberry coulis on every dessert! These were exciting times.)
Well, I’m pleased to report that many of my classic favorites are alive and well at Samantha’s Taproom in Little Rock. Nowadays everything in New York City seems like it has to be “artisanal” or “authentic” or “with a twist”. Sometimes you just want a delicious standard like a creamy Caesar salad. (I ordered this dish before we all realized Romaine lettuce is trying to kill you in your sleep.)
24 hour treat: steak
And what’s more satisfying than a New York strip steak with green peppercorn sauce? I guess to be perfectly 80s it would have pink peppercorn, but I can’t see the bros of Little Rock being willing to order a steak with pink sauce. But perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit! Samantha’s is known for their wood fire grill, so definitely order a steak here if you’re a meat lover like me.
We finish off with my favorite dessert as a child, Key lime pie. I miss the days when you could find Key lime pie on every restaurant menu in New York City. The combination of sweet and tart is just so satisfying. I used to always tell the waiters that it was my birthday, whether this was true or not, just to get the whole restaurant to sing to me. Honestly, some days I don’t know why my mom didn’t just donate me to Goodwill.
24 Hours: Little Rock Museums
What would you do with 24 hours with Little Rock Museums? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Little Rock? Are there any restaurant trends you remember fondly from your childhood? And has it ever been easy to find a job in media, like back in the 1500s? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Little Rock. If you have another 24 hours in Little Rock to see more than the Little Rock museums, add this itinerary.