History of the Park
Petit Jean Mountain has been a silent witness to history...from the prehistoric Native Americans who lived here and left their pictographs to the Cherokee who passed by the mountain traveling the Trail of Tears, from pioneer settlers to the beginning of Arkansas's state park system when the CCC construction crews built Petit Jean State Park during the Great Depression. Today, park visitors can enjoy camping, hiking, swimming, and dining at Petit Jean State Park. In the timeline below, see how the histories of the mountain and the park that bears its legendary name evolved.
1832 through 1839 – Cherokee Indians pass by Petit Jean Mountain while traveling the Trail of Tears
portion of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail passes through Petit Jean State Park.
The first white settlers arrive on Petit Jean Mountain. John Walker, a farmer and squatter, builds a log cabin on the north side of what is now Lake Bailey. This cabin is later restored by the CCC, and may be seen at the Cedar Creek Trailhead.
A well is drilled for Dan Nelson near the current campground “A” area of Petit Jean State Park. The farm containing the well was bought by Charles W. and Mattie Hamilton in 1913. The well still marks the “Old Hamilton” home place.
Dan Nelson builds a mansion on the point of Petit Jean Mountain overlooking the Arkansas River to the east. Nelson sells his property in the early 1920’s to a gentleman named Stout, who turns the mansion into a hotel. Later, the building is purchased and donated to the YMCA for use as a camp until the 1940’s, and then it is torn down. The YMCA sells the property to Camp Mitchell, which currently allows “Stout’s Point”, also known as Petit Jean’s Gravesite and Overlook, to be leased by Petit Jean State Park.
Dr. T.W. Hardison makes his first trip to Petit Jean as part of a survey crew.
The idea to create a park on one of the most scenic Arkansas mountains comes about when some officers & stockholders in the Fort Smith Lumber Company visit Thala Mill on a business trip to inspect timber areas. This trip turns into a week-long holiday, with rides on horses and log trains through the valleys and over the mountain. While exploring the Seven Hollows region, which was owned by the company, there is a discussion about the difficulties which would be encountered in logging the rough terrain, and a consensus is reached that the trees in that area should be left uncut. A suggestion is made that the area should be offered to the government for a national park.
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Dr. T. W. Hardison, the Fort Smith Lumber Company physician, persuades Representative H. M. Jacoway to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives providing for the acceptance of the area as Petit Jean National Park. Stephen Mather, director of the National Park Service, meets with Hardison and explains that he cannot recommend that Congress accept the offer, because the area is too small for a national park. He suggests that it be made into a state park instead.
An 80-acre tract, including Cedar Falls, is offered to the State of Arkansas. It is accepted by special Act of the legislature, making it one of the first state parks created in the South. Donors of this original tract, which forms the nucleus of the park, are A. C. Neal, A.J. Stephens, R.M. Huie, V. V. Hellums, Clifton Moose, A.C. Stover, and M. M. Scroggin, businessmen of Morrilton, as well as W.J. Parks and E. Hale of Pine Bluff. (1,032 acres in the Seven Hollows Region is donated later by the Fort Smith Lumber Company).
Act 276 is voted on and approved unanimously by both houses.
Initial land acquired for the Petit Jean State Park making it the first state park established in Arkansas
The first Arkansas state park, Petit Jean State Park, is dedicated
An Arkansas State Parks Commission is developed, with 7 members.
Their mission is “TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE IN ITS ORIGIONAL HABITAT AND NATIVE BEAUTY, THE FLORA, FAUNA, AND WILDLIFE THEREIN AND PRESERVE THE SAME FOR ALL FUTURE GENERATIONS”.
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College Lodge is constructed by the YMCA as an administration building for its camp at Stout’s Point. This building burns during the 1940’s
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1933 through 1941 – The federal government spends $1,750,000 developing the area, and 200 men with the Civilian Conservation Corps are assigned to work in the park. “Company V-1781” is the designation of Petit Jean’s CCC camp, which is organized in July of 1933 and employs World War I veterans. The CCC builds two lakes with a total water area of 120 acres, as well as a stone lodge, 20 cabins, an entrance building, and numerous picnic areas, shelters, roads and trails.
Major W.H. Wilborn, Maj. George H. Hicks and new Superintendent Samuel G. Davies tour the site of the new park. They selected the site for the new CCC camp. New wells will need to be drilled in order to supply the camp with water. (Morrilton Democrat)
News breaks about the park coming to Petit Jean. Plans related to the paper by Davies include a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Four stocked lakes for fishing and swimming as well as bridal trails were proposed. (Morrilton Democrat)
Foremen for the new CCC camp are announced by NPS officials. They are:
D.N. Graves, Cultural Foreman;
H.S. Amsler, Landscape Foreman;
Carl Overstreet, Landscape Foreman;
W.H. Stringer, Landscape Foreman;
S.L. Davies, Landscape Foreman;
Charles Gustavson, Cultural Foreman;
Bert Hunter, Clean Up Foreman; and
Paul Gordon, Erosion Control Foreman.
Main camp arrives at Petit Jean. Captain George Read, Jr. (US Army) commanding. (Morrilton Democrat) The men find their future camp site to be an abandoned corn and cotton field that is overgrown with weeds and wild blackberry bushes. (CCC Scrapbook, 1937)
Sam Davies meets with Herbert Maier, District Supervisor of NPS and Prof P.H. Elwood, head of Iowa State College (Ames) landscape engineering department and Attorney General Hal L. Norwood, chairman of the state parks commission, to work on formulating and improvement plan for the park. (Morrilton Democrat)
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Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 1781-V begins work on Petit Jean Mountain. No defined hiking trails exist in Petit Jean State Park at this time.