In the early 1800’s the River valley was the center of the Cherokee Nation. The Treaty of Council Oaks, by which the Cherokees relinquished lands south of the Arkansas River, was negotiated at a grove of large oak trees near Dardanelle Rock in what is now the city of Dardanelle.
Dwight Mission, the first Cherokee school west of the Mississippi, was established on Illinois Bayou on the western edge of what is now Russellville in 1821. The Mission and an Army post at Fort Smith did much to stimulate commercial traffic on the river. During the 1800’s thousands of steamboats brought supplies and passengers up the river and hauled cotton and furs and other products downriver to the Mississippi and on to points of commerce such as Memphis and New Orleans.
Old Post Road Park occupies the former site of Norristown, a once thriving river town and Pope County Seat. The park derives its name from the fact that the first postal route in this part of Arkansas ran through Norristown. As early as 1834, a four horse coach was used to carry mail through Norristown on the route between Little Rock and Dwight Mission.
The old Military Road from Little Rock to Fort Smith also passed through Norristown. Traffic on this road, which crossed the river by ferry, included military personnel, postal riders, wagons, and the famous stagecoaches. During its heyday, steamboats would stop at Norristown to deliver goods to local merchants and to take on fuel wood and bales of cotton for shipment to New Orleans.
In the late 1800’s, the ferry between Dardanelle and Pope County was replaced by a pontoon bridge. At 2,208 feet, it was the longest pontoon bridge ever constructed across a moving body of water. The bridge was completely washed out four times during its more than 30 years of service.
The development of the railroads and treacherous conditions on the river contributed to the downfall of the steamboat in the early 1900’s. It was after World War II before any serious attempts were made to tame the Arkansas.
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was authorized for, "improvement of the Arkansas River and its tributaries in Arkansas and Oklahoma", by the River and Harbor Act of 1946. Construction on Dardanelle Lock, Dam, and Powerhouse began in June,1957 and was not completed until November,1969. Total project cost, $82,300,000. Construction on Arthur V. Ormond Lock and Dam was begun in January, 1966 and completed in November, 1969 with costs at $32,200,000.
By the 1970’s, the river was once again the dominant force in development of the Arkansas River Valley.