About 46 people gathered on a recent Saturday morning to learn how the history of transportation in Arkansas impacted the development of the state.
“The evolution of transportation in Arkansas greatly impacted the state’s economic development, cultural make up and diversity by providing different, easier and newer means of moving goods and people,” said Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager. “NEARA holds a symposium every year in August on a topic that is of historical significance to Northeast Arkansas. This topic, however, was also relevant to the state overall.”
“Moving About: The History of Transportation in Arkansas” was held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at Arkansas State University’s student union in Jonesboro. This year’s symposium addressed transportation and the various ways people moved into and about in historic Arkansas. Special speakers Joan Gould, Robert Craig, and Dr. Michael Dougan addressed the topics of trails, river transportation and railways.
For most of its early history, the state, especially the Delta region, was difficult to navigate by land due to the swampy terrain, so rivers were the Arkansas highways for most of the 1800s. With the emergence of the railways in the late 1800s and the building of drainage ditches, transportation vastly improved. Railroads provided an easier way to transport goods and improved the Arkansas economy.
Various modes of transportation played a pivotal role in shaping the state of Arkansas throughout its history. For example, the transportation of goods moved from the railroads to highways and interstates, changing where people lived, how goods were delivered and how people traveled.
Dr. Michael Dougan, a renowned history professor, talked about the history of railroads and highways in Arkansas and the way their emergence and development impacted the state economically, socially and politically. He presented original photographs and documents from his personal archives collected over three decades.
Robert Craig, an award-winning historian, discussed the history of transportation on the White, Black and other rivers in Arkansas, especially the use of flatboats and keelboats as an early mode of river transport.
Joan Gould, a longtime preservation consultant, gave a spellbinding talk on the use of trails and ancient pathways by Native Americans, Euro-American and African American farmers who settled in the state and developed its economy.
Audience members said they were captivated by the lectures. During and following the symposium, participants asked whether the lecture materials would be available online for further references and expressed interest in attending NEARA’s next year’s symposium, which will be held in Walnut Ridge.
“This symposium was a chance for Arkansans who are interested in the history of transportation to see, hear and learn how advances in and access to transportation technology affected Arkansas’s people, quality of life and economy,” Myuhtar-May said. “How great is it that NEARA and the Arkansas State Archives hold events, including this symposium, that showcase and explore different aspects of our collective history and identity? Our history and heritage is unique, rich and diverse.”