“Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the river.”
Helena-West Helena is situated along the Mighty Mississippi River and is considered by many people as the birthplace of the blues. The unique delta town has a rich culture that includes the world famous King Biscuit Blues Festival each October. Tourists love to enjoy the magnificent turn-of-the century homes and sites which still exist and the quaint antique shops along the Cherry Street Historic District.
The Delta Cultural Center is located in an old train depot and has many interesting exhibits detailing the history of the delta region. The center is also the site of where King Biscuit Time, the longest- running radio show is still broadcasted over radio air waves with host “Sunshine” Sonny Payne. Actually, the King Biscuit Blues Festival is named after this radio show which originated on KFFA, 1360 AM, Helena’s first local radio station.
Even though there are no big name department stores or malls located here, some of the best antique and gift shops are sprinkled throughout the Cherry Street Historic District. Delta Gypsy, is a boutique with unique art, linens, dishes, and distinctive gifts by well-known designers like Vera Bradley and New York based artist Patience Brewster’s. Sam Elardo, owner of Delta Gypsy also has a wonderful antique shop, Gracious Living, a couple of blocks down the street from Delta Gypsy. This shop contains antiques from Elardo’s personal collection which include items such as wing-backed chairs and sofas, silver napkin rings and collectible desk sets.
Cotton and Kudzu offers quality items from many vendors including wonderful, handmade children’s clothing, antique jewelry, gifts, kitchenware and much more. Another shining example of a fine shop on Cherry Street is Handworks. Their motto: “A few of our favorite things,” exemplifies the care they use when selecting the unique items they sell. Products include names such as Peter’s Pottery, Etta B and 3 E Design Pottery with minimalist-style dinnerware in neutral to vibrant, patterned decorative pieces. You will also find handmade jewelry, original artwork and even Arkansas-made items like honey, pottery, soaps and soy-based candles.
There are two great places to eat in the Cherry Street Historic District. Fine Mexican food is offered at El Rio Lindo Mexican Restaurant on the south end. If you’re looking for great, home-cooked food be sure to visit Granny Dee’s for the best soul food in the city. Bessie “Granny” Brewer’s home cooked, breakfast-and-lunch only restaurant serves fried chicken, greens, cornbread and burgers. A buffet of meat and vegetable lunch changes daily with an offering of regular menu items such as sandwiches, burgers and more.
Just a few blocks away spend the night at the exquisite Edwardian Inn bed and breakfast, an 11-room retreat that will take you back in time. Always booked well in advance for the King Biscuit Blues Festival, you can usually reserve a room any other time of the year. When staying there you will experience fine luxury and cozy surroundings in a perfect example of the some of the grand homes built in Helena long ago.
It was a bloody battle on July 4, 1863. When daylight shined on the banks of the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas, the town had been controlled by Union forces the past year. Helena was situated in an important location between Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi and served as a supply depot and organizational area for Union campaigns. A total of 239 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. The number for Confederate was nearly sevenfold 1,636 killed, wounded, or missing. The Battle of Helena secured the Union stronghold on the Mighty Mississippi. The bloody battle also proved to be the last major Confederate offensive in Arkansas. At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War, and some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation's loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam. For that reason, the Civil War is considered our bloodiest war.
The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War is being commemorated by the United States through 2015. Helena-West Helena’s Civil War Sesquicentennial began in May, 2012 with the dedication of a replica of Fort Curtis, a Union fortress built after Federal forces captured the town in June 1862. The observance continues May 24-26 with Battle of Helena 150 – Reenactment of the Battle of Helena. This event will feature approximately 300 living history participants and is sanctioned by the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission.
If you would like more information, click here for the event flyer.