It's quiet in Washington as I sit outside and enjoy a relatively cool evening following a scorching summer. I'm not talking about Washington on the Potomac, where I lived in the 1980s. It's never quiet there. I'm talking about Washington near the Red River, the one in southwest Arkansas.

I'm staying at Jailhouse Bed & Breakfast. It's a Tuesday night, and I'm the only one here. The inn, part of Historic Washington State Park, is delightful. It's a perfect night for reading outside as I admire the huge trees that dot this town. For decades, Washington was the Hempstead County seat.

A one-story brick building with four jail cells was completed in 1873. An expanded two-story jail was completed in 1918 with six cells. That's the building now used for the inn. Each of the eight rooms has a private bathroom. There's a concrete pillar in the dining room and in two of the private rooms on the second floor displaying the names of people who etched messages into the concrete while in custody.

From 1910-39, there were at least 27 escapees from jail in Washington. All but one of the escapees were captured. The most prisoners held at one time was 17. When the county seat moved to Hope in 1939, the jail fell into disuse. It later was divided into apartments. In 1982, the jail was bought and renovated by J.B. Summers for overnight stays. It operated as a private bed-and-breakfast inn until 2010.

The former jail was purchased by the state in 2014 and reopened following extensive renovations. Washington is a town made for walking, and I do a lot of it the next morning. I whisper a "thank you" for the preservationists who began working decades ago to save a place that was a major stopping point in the early 1800s on the Southwest Trail, which connected St. Louis to Fulton on the Red River.

Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie all traveled through Washington on their way to Texas, where they fought for independence from Mexico. It was in Washington that Bowie commissioned James Black to make what became known as the bowie knife. Washington also was a mustering point in 1846 for troops headed south to fight in the Mexican-American War.

In 1863, Arkansas' Confederate government fled Little Rock. The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse served as the Confederate capitol until 1865.

Nearby Hope was the product of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad, which was built through southwest Arkansas in the 1870s. Hope was incorporated in April 1875. A July 3, 1875, fire at Washington destroyed many of the city's businesses. Most of those businesses reopened at Hope so they could be near the railroad.

A long, steady decline began for Washington. For 60 years, a political fight took place as Hope tried to gain the county seat. In May 1939, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hope. It appeared Washington would cease to be an important spot in south Arkansas. Preservationists had other ideas.

According to the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism: "The historic preservation movement at Washington began in 1929. Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to secure money from the Legislature to fund restoration of the 1836 courthouse. In 1958, the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation was formed to preserve the town's structures and interpret its history.

"The foundation operated tours of homes for 15 years and succeeded in getting the Washington Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1972. In 1973, foundation officials invited state government to help preserve and interpret the town. The foundation donated property and antiques. Old Washington Historic State Park became the 34th Arkansas state park when it opened on July 1, 1973."

In a September 2006 meeting, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission changed the park's name to Historic Washington State Park. A new master plan was adopted for 54 buildings on 101 acres. Almost 30 of those buildings are historically significant. Tours can be arranged at the park's visitors' center in the 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse.

The Federal-style 1836 courthouse is at the corner of Franklin and Hamilton streets. It replaced a one-room courthouse. Both structures were built by Tilman Patterson. After serving as the Confederate capitol during the Civil War, it served again as a courthouse until the third Hempstead County Courthouse was completed. The United Daughters of the Confederacy centered their 1929 efforts on the 1836 building, but that increased public awareness of the entire town.

The 1874 courthouse was built in the Italianate style with a low-hipped roofline, square cupola, overhanging eaves with decorative support brackets and long windows. After serving as a courthouse, it was a school for a time.

There are also historic churches at Washington. There has been a Methodist congregation since 1821. The congregation completed construction of a building in the Greek Revival style on Franklin Street in 1861. Meanwhile, the Rev. Alexander Robinson Banks organized the Washington Presbyterian Church in 1849. A building constructed the next year later burned. A Gothic Revival-style building replaced it in 1889. A 1907 tornado moved the church from its foundation but didn't destroy the building.

Historic homes worth a visit include the Block-Catts House, Grandison Royston House, Sanders-Garland House and Trimble House. Lunch at Williams Tavern is recommended following that morning walk through what I consider the Arkansas version of Colonial Williamsburg.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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A night in jail

1 0 11
26.10.2022

It's quiet in Washington as I sit outside and enjoy a relatively cool evening following a scorching summer. I'm not talking about Washington on the Potomac, where I lived in the 1980s. It's never quiet there. I'm talking about Washington near the Red River, the one in southwest Arkansas.

I'm staying at Jailhouse Bed & Breakfast. It's a Tuesday night, and I'm the only one here. The inn, part of Historic Washington State Park, is delightful. It's a perfect night for reading outside as I admire the huge trees that dot this town. For decades, Washington was the Hempstead County seat.

A one-story brick building with four jail cells was completed in 1873. An expanded two-story jail was completed in 1918 with six cells. That's the building now used for the inn. Each of the eight rooms has a private bathroom. There's a concrete pillar in the dining room and in two of the private rooms on the second floor displaying the names of people who etched messages into the concrete while in custody.

From 1910-39, there were at least 27 escapees from jail in Washington. All but one of the escapees were captured. The most prisoners held at one time was 17. When the county seat moved to Hope in 1939, the jail fell into disuse. It later was divided into apartments. In 1982, the jail was bought and renovated by J.B. Summers for overnight stays. It operated as a private bed-and-breakfast inn until 2010.

The former jail was........

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