Digging for History at Old Washington


Mary Kwas
978-1-55728-898-1 (cloth)
February 2009


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Positioned along the legendary Southwest Trail, the town of Washington in Hempstead County in southwest Arkansas was a thriving center of commerce, business, and county government in the nineteenth century. Historical figures such as Davy Crockett and Sam Houston passed through, and during the Civil War, when the Federal troops occupied Little Rock, the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington served as the seat of state government.
A prosperous town fully involved in the events and society of the territorial, antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras, Washington became in a way frozen in time by a series of events including two fires, a tornado, and being bypassed by the railroad in 1874. Now an Arkansas State Park and National Historic Landmark, Washington has been studied by the Arkansas Archeological Survey over the past twenty-five years.
Digging for History at Old Washington joins the historical record with archaeological findings such as uncovered construction details, evidence of lost buildings, and remnants of everyday objects. Of particular interest are the homes of Abraham Block, a Jewish merchant originally from New Orleans, and Simon Sanders from North Carolina, who became the town’s county clerk. The public and private lives of the Block and Sanders families provide a fascinating look at an antebellum town at the height of its prosperity.

Mary L. Kwas is a research associate for the Arkansas Archeological Survey and has worked for the survey since 1996. She is the recipient of the 2007 Presidential Recognition Award from the Society for American Archaeology.
Jay S. Miller is Administrator of Program Services for Arkansas State Parks.

“Strongly recommend to those interested in the history and archaeology of nineteenth-century Arkansas.”
Southeastern Archaeology
“Provides a rich history, both in content and design, of a national-historic-landmark community and state park.”
Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology

“The triumph of this book is a multi-disciplinary approach, weaving together archival and historical sources, genealogy, architectural history, and archaeology into a narrative that creates a depiction both rich and broad. All the while, the author maintains a scholarly accuracy that gives this book a weight and legitimacy. This multi-disciplinary approach has incorporated the significant archaeological work done at Washington to create a historical interpretation of the town and of two of its historic families that, in turn, allows greater understanding of those excavations and, hopefully, a greater appreciation for the wealth of information they revealed.”
—Ken Story, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Summer 2012
“History, mystery almost solved, the separating of fact from fiction, and archeological discoveries are revealed in the lives of Abraham Block and Simon Sanders. Their stories intertwine with the history of Washington, Arkansas, as they all came of age on the Southwest Trail.”
—Jay S. Miller, From the Foreword