Toltec Mounds and the Plantation Agriculture Museum
These two parks are both in Scott, AR just southeast of Little Rock. They are within about four miles of one another and easy to visit on the same day! As an archaeologist, I LOVE Toltec, but we started at the Plantation Agriculture Museum first and then headed south a bit to Toltec Mounds State Park.
My parents met us out at the Plantation Agriculture Museum (established in 1985). Having the grandparents around is always special for Huxley and I appreciate all of their help!
The main building (the Steele-Dortch bulding) was constructed in 1912. It was used as a general store. The smaller section of the building was added in 1929 (and served as the Scott Post Office). These combined structures house the museum with several exhibits on cotton. The exhibits focus on the laborious process beginning with breaking ground/tilling, planting and harvesting cotton. Additional exhibits included one about airplanes (and their role in crop dusting and mail delivery) and a second about the railroad.
The grounds of the Plantation Agriculture Museum include 14.5 acres. Three primary areas are located outside of the main building. These include the Tractor/Machinery shed, a Cotton Gin building, and the Seed Warehouse No. 5 building. The Dortch Gin building is currently closed with repairs being made. Outside grounds also included a cotton patch to show visitors what the plant looks like as it grows, flowers, and produces cotton at different times of the year.
The massive Seed Warehouse Number 5 building dominates the landscape. It was constructed in 1948 and is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The seed storage building has a unique shape and once you see this one, you begin to notice other similar buildings on the southern landscape. The construction utilizes a truss sytem to avoid central interior supports. This improves interior storage and facilitates moving seeds around easier. The warehouse was filled from above and the seed piles grew large. The building was originally constructed on a Cotton Belt Railroad spur and you even get to enter through old boxcars.
Inside are several exhibits about seed crops and their production. Also present is a hands-on exhibit about the auger system that was utilized in the building to move seeds around.
Inside of Seed Warehouse No. 5 are several remaining features of the building's use, like this seed cleaner and a station where seed bags were filled and weighed.
And over at Toltec Mounds State Park!
Our good friends Katie King and Jeff DeSantis along with their kids Julian and Allie joined us! Toltec Mounds State Park was established in 1975 and includes 185 acres. Katie and I are both anthropologists (she is in the Anthropology Department at UALR) and this archaeological park is important to us! In fact, this site is so important in our history (prehistory) that it was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
The site is large an includes 18 earthen mounds. These mounds were enclosed by an earthen embankment and ditch in a "D" shape on the banks of an oxbow lake, now named Mound Pond. Several mounds are grouped together around open areas or plazas. The site was primarily a vacant ceremonial center and permanently occupied by relatively few people. Larger numbers of individuals likely came together for important religious, social, and/or political events at the site. One of the most interesting things about the mounds at Toltec Mounds is they align with solar positions. Sunrise and sunsets align with specific mounds on summer and winter solstices, as well as spring and fall equinoxes. With a society dependent on agriculture, a method to track seasonal change and planting/harvest schedules was of utmost importance. The site dates to what archaeologists term the Late Woodland Period. This site and the Plum Bayou peoples are unique in their early use of platform mound construction and a reliance on agriculture. These are generally hallmarks of later Mississippian Period peoples. What drove people at this site to aggregate large groups of people for religious/social/political formations throughout the year and construct these mounds, along with a diet that included larger amounts of plant based agriculture (they still continued to harvest animals like deer) remains the subject of archaeological theory today.
The Visitor Center contains several exhibits on mound construction and the material culture (like lithics/stone tools and ceramics/pottery) from Native Americans that have inhabited the area. These peoples have become known as the Plum Bayou Culture. A term that archaeologists have applied to contemporary sites across the region. Two hands-on tables are present inside. One deals with pelts/furs of animals from the area and the other table includes a sorting game of animals that are native to the area versus animals that have been introduced.
The park has two trails. The Knapp trail is paved and is 3/4 a mile. It also includes a really nice boardwalk section out over the oxbow lake. Cypress trees and their cypress knees or knots are really cool to see. Usually turtles can be spotted along this section of trail. The Knapp Trail has its own brochure/trail guide, so be sure to ask for it in the visitors center. The Plum Bayou Trail is longer at 1.6 miles and is natural surface. The ground was super wet and we stuck to the paved trail! Two of the largest mounds dominate the site (mounds A and B) and are almost 40 and 50 feet tall! These mounds were built basket load by basket load and took a considerable amount of labor. Most of the mounds were flat topped and would have included a structure on top of some of them.
After this visit we found a GREAT restaurant right up the road called Seaton's Scott Place. The brisket was excellent and I would recommend stopping here. My restaurant ratings usually include the condition of if I would go back or not. I look forward to going back to Seaton's Scott Place and trying more of their food!
If you are looking for a recommendation at Toltec Mounds State Park, I would suggest watching their events calendar for one of the guided solstice walks or one of the night sky star programs!