The McCollum-Chidester House is one of the original homes in Camden. By Marcia Schnedler
Category: Worth the Drive

South Arkansas town has a rich history

The sleek Camark cat peering into a white pitcher is resting in the hands of Danny Harrell, the enthusiastic manager at the McCollum-Chidester House Museum in Camden.

“These continue to be quite collectible,” Harrell tells two visitors to the 177-year-old National Register of Historic Places property. He plays a video that shows some of the “climbing cats” attached to the side of a house. They were a trademark creation of Camark Pottery, a prominent firm from 1927 to 1982 in the Ouachita County seat.

The Leake-Ingham Library once served as an office of the Freedman’s Bureau, which helped newly liberated slaves after the Civil War. By Marcia Schnedler

Camden is the headquarters for Ouachita Electric Cooperative, one of 17 distribution cooperatives of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. The community’s history stretches back to 1782, when Spain set up a trading post called Ecore a Fabri along the Ouachita River.

The settlement’s name became Camden in 1842, five years before trader Peter McCollum built his house. Visitors learn that the home at 926 W. Washington St. boasted the area’s first plastered walls, carpeting and wallpaper.

The property was bought in 1862 by stagecoach owner John T. Chidester for $10,000 in gold. Chidester descendants lived here until the early 1960s, when it was sold to the Ouachita County Historical Society.

Opened in 1896 as a post office, Postmasters Grill is listed
on the National Register of Historic Places. By Marcia Schnedler

Ghost-seeking investigations have taken place in the house since the 1960s. In 2020, according to Harrell, “Natural State Paranormal set up cameras and other equipment in one bedroom. At the end of the three-hour investigation, a spirit was caught on a ghost-recording camera at the foot of the bed, and it appeared to be holding on to the bedpost.”

Next to the McCollum-Chidester House stands Leake-Ingham Library, which has been moved five times since its construction in 1850 in downtown Camden. After the Civil War, it served as an office of the Freedman’s Bureau, which helped newly liberated slaves.

The house and library are located in Washington Street Historic District, where Queen Anne-style homes include the 1896 J.W.Holleman House and the 1900 Reed-Mason House. Notable among the district’s other styles is the H.B. Lide House, 522 Washington St., built in 1916 as one of th city’s first homes in Craftsman style.

During the Civil War, Camden was briefly held by Union forces in April 1864 during the so-called Camden Expedition. Visitors can drive 12 miles northwest to Poison Springs Battleground State Park, where exhibits detail the April 18 fighting, when Confederate troops captured a 200-wagon federal supply convoy. That loss persuaded Brig. Gen. Frederick Seele to begin the 100-mile retreat back to Little Rock.

Murals in Camden depict local life in past times. By Marcia Schnedler

Along with its Camark display, Camden Visitors Center and Museum, in a former train station at 314 Adams St. SW, exhibits another local product with former prominence. Grapette bottles evoke the widely popular grape soda that came on the market in 1940.

Like many cities during the past decade, Camden has been brightened by murals on public and private buildings. Examples can be viewed along downtown Adams Avenue (Arkansas 7). One of the largest shows vignettes of local life in past eras.

Arkansas’ oldest restaurant, open since 1907, is White House Café, 323 S. Adams Ave. Cheerful service adds pleasure to a menu that includes salads, sandwiches, Mexican dishes, steaks and seafood.

Postmasters Grill, 133 W. Washington St., operates in the brick National Register of Historic Places building that opened in 1896 as a post office. Its menu features steaks, with jambalaya adding a Louisiana touch. The professional sound stage on its patio offers music performances during warmer months.

Native Dog Brewing is the first craft brewery in southern Arkansas. By Marcia Schnedler

Morning beverages at Perfect Cup, 1226 Country Club Road), include coffees, smoothies and frappes, to be paired with muffins and croissants. Lunch is built around salads and sandwiches.

Native Dog Brewing, 125 Madison Ave., professes to be the first craft brewery in southern Arkansas. Its owners, Bobby and Lauren Glaze, are pharmacists by profession. The array of beers is supplemented on Fridays and Saturdays by a pizza truck.

The XOXO Co., 322 S. Adams Ave., is a specialty boutique offering clothing, home décor, gifts and accessories. Pick out the perfect gift for any family member, including the furry ones.

Established in the 1830s, Oakland Cemetery is the site of a Confederate burial section and monument. By Marcia Schnedler

The impact of the Civil War still resonates in Oakland Cemetery, established in the 1830s as the community’s first burial ground. Its Confederate section holds more than 250 graves, each marked with a small white marble headstone.

A tall granite monument at the site carries a poetic inscription on its eastern face: “We care not whence they come, dear is their lifeless clay. Whether known or unknown to fame, their cause and country still the same, they died and wore the Gray.”