Renovation to double exhibit space at Delta Cultural Center

HELENA -- The Delta Cultural Center, a major visitor attraction for families in southeastern Arkansas, will close Nov. 1 for a major renovation that will more than double its exhibit space.

Although the center itself will be dark, trees along Cherry Street, where the center is situated, will be lighted for the Christmas period, according to Katie Harrington, the center's acting director and its former curator.

When the center reopens May 6, more than $1 million will have been spent on enhancing its exhibits, she said.

Since 1990, the center's permanent exhibit has been "The Arkansas Delta: A Landscape of Change."

New exhibits with more interactive features will be installed by Quatrefoil Associates of Laurel, Md., which created the exhibits for the Central High School Museum in Little Rock.

The exhibits will be housed on the first floor of the main building (a restored 1912 railroad depot), the second floor and at two educational storefronts located a block away.

The new exhibits will place increased emphasis on the Delta's musical legacy and its rivers, according to Quatrefoil officials.

The arts and music will include a film on the city's King Biscuit Blues Festival, held annually the second week in October.

Four interactive listening stations will allow visitors to explore the region's rich musical heritage, especially blues and gospel.

In addition, the King Biscuit Hour blues radio program, now broadcast from the depot, will be moving to the educational center. The program, which first aired in 1941, is the world's longest-running blues radio show.

At the depot, an introductory video will provide visitors with an overview of the new exhibits. A large central area will feature an exhibit on the region's rivers and the way they affected delta life.

Other exhibit themes will include Native Americans and explorers, frontier life and how the land was tamed, agriculture, the growth of delta towns and the area's social fabric and history.

The second floor will contain exhibits on the Civil War and its aftermath, including the July 4, 1863, Battle of Helena and the seven Confederate generals from Helena.

The sites of four Union batteries used to defend the town will be visible from the exhibit area.

A railroad caboose attached to the depot will house exhibits for children.

Officials are hoping the increased emphasis on music in the exhibits will draw music fans to Helena throughout the year.

The festival drew an estimated 140,000 people during its four-day run in 1998.

Situated on the shore of the Mississippi River in Phillips County, Helena emerged as a major Arkansas port shortly after steamboats began traveling the river in 1811.

In 1833, Helena followed Little Rock as the second town to incorporate in the Arkansas Territory.

In addition to the center's exhibits, Helena visitors can view a collection of antebellum and turn-of-the century residences, some of which are operated as bed-and-breakfasts.

The 1896 Pillow-Thompson House, one of the South's best examples of Queen Anne-Victorian architecture, is open for free public tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Groups may schedule tours by calling (870) 338-8535.

The Phillips County Museum, built in 1929 and located at 623 Pecan St., includes period portraits of Helena's seven Confederate generals and other paintings; a handwritten note by Robert E. Lee and other Civil War memorabilia; a letter and autographed books from Mark Twain; Native American pottery and tools, and relics recovered from Mississippi River shipwrecks.

Admission is free and museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Another popular stop for Helena visitors is an elevated boardwalk in the Helena Reach riverfront park overlooking the Mississippi River.

Helena Tourism Commission
Phone: (870) 338-9831

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