Calico Rock: Cherishing the Past, Embracing the Future

Published By:Cathy Drew Date:

Calico Rock is one of Arkansas’ most storied communities, dating back to the days of Spanish explorers. Its historic Main Street includes a number of buildings with massive limestone storefronts well over a hundred years old. The new Calico Rock Museum is a bridge between the town’s heritage and culture and the unique experience of visitors. The museum is located at 102 Main Street in the venerable Bank of Calico Rock Building on Main Street. The museum was chartered in June 2008.

 French fur-traders named Calico Rock while exploring the White River because of the uniquely colored bluffs jutting up from the river. While blasting for the railroad in the early 1900s, much of the coloration was lost. Over the past 100 years, the unique coloration has begun to return through natural processes. Calico Rock’s White River location provided a perfect landing for trappers, traders, and settlers attracted by the rolling hills and fertile valleys.

The town developed as a trading and bartering area, steam boat landing, commercial and wholesale center, and railroad boomtown.  But the coming of the railroad in 1902 changed everything and almost bankrupted an empire. Railroad tycoon Jay Gould was laying rail from Memphis to Kansas City to expand his inland empire. He brought the railroad to Calico Rock, though other routes would have been more direct and easier to build. His decision turned Calico Rock into a boom town almost overnight.

 The museum’s current collections and exhibits celebrate the town’s colorful history, from pre-historic times to the late 20th century. But the best is yet to come; the museum’s trustees have purchased the building next door to the present museum. The new building celebrates the town’s river heritage with a boat dock, a vintage steering wheel, wheelhouse, smoke stacks, and other artifacts from the riverboat era. The museum also houses a miniature version of the Ozark Queen, the last of seven steamboats that navigated the White River until the early twentieth century. All seven boats will eventually be recognized in the museum.

 The Calico Rock Museum is also responsible for the Artisans Co-operative in the 1903 Rodman Building on Main Street. All work is by local artisans and artists. Crafts include fiber arts, woodworking, pottery, candles, soap and other crafts. Artwork includes watercolor, jewelry, oil painting and photography. Books about the history, culture, and nature of the area are also available. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. The Calico Rock Visitor Center is located in the museum building. It is well-stocked with brochures and maps to help you better enjoy your visit.

Calico Rock is famous for its White River trout fishing; other popular water activities include canoeing, tubing, rafting, kayaking, or just taking a boat ride on the majestic White River.  Fishing guides and boat rentals are available. While you are visiting Calico Rock, be sure to take a walk touring the Peppersauce Alley Ghost Town, a historic district with over twenty “haunted’ existing buildings and other structures from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Peppersauce was the common name for illegal spirits at that time; apparently the area was a popular spot for imbibing, hence its name. Also check out River View Hotel, built in 1923. Better yet, spend the night in this charming, comfortable, well-managed “bed and breakfast” inn, built on a bluff that provides excellent views of the White River. RV travelers and tent campers should head straight for the Cedar Ridge RV Park, also with awesome views of the river; fisherman will appreciate Jenkins’ Fishing Service and Motel.  Riverside Retreat, Ed’s Rock Lodge, White River Suites, Calico Creek Retreat, and Cedar Rock Lodge provide visitors with a high-quality selection of varied lodging choices. For a great meal try the White Rver Café, the 56 Diner, or El Sabor de Mexico.

My own experiences in Calico Rock have always been very pleasant. I really enjoy watching the steam rising from the river in the early morning, taking advantage of the incredible views from the bluff, checking out the craftsmanship on display at the Artisans Co-op, and attending some of the many colorful festivals and tournaments that take place during the year.   Calico Rock is a great place to slow down, catch your breath, and relax. You deserve it.

For more information and a calendar events contact the Chamber of Commerce at www.calicorock.us or visit www.ozarkgateway.com and download the Ozark Gateway Tourist Guide, also available at the Calico Rock Museum and Visitor’s Center.