Helena-West Helena, Arkansas
As its hyphenated name implies, Helena-West Helena was formed from the merger of two previously existing towns, which became effective Jan. 1, 2006. The origins of the two prior towns can be traced to separate eras in American history.
Helena was located on the Mississippi River and began its emergence as a major port shortly after steamboats began traveling the river in 1811. The agricultural wealth of Arkansas's eastern Delta region flowed through Helena and it was there that the culture of the Deep South made its most thorough and enduring penetration into Arkansas.
Pinned between the river on the east and Crowley's Ridge immediately to the west, Helena was unable to accommodate the industrialization that began reaching the area in the early 20th century. Thus, West Helena was founded in 1909 to the west of Crowley's Ridge around the factories and mills for which Helena had lacked the space.
At Helena-West Helena, the mythic power of the Mississippi can be seen in the River Reach Park. The Delta Cultural Center, a state museum, has exhibits detailing the natural and human history of the Delta region, including the 1863 Battle of Helena, and Helena-West Helena's role in the development of blues music. Helena contributed seven generals to the Confederacy, three of whom are buried in Helena-West Helena's Confederate Cemetery. Civil War artifacts and period paintings of the generals can be viewed at the Phillips County Museum.
Other Helena-West Helena attractions include a large collection of antebellum and Victorian homes, including three that operate as bed and breakfast inns and the 1896 Queen Anne Pillow-Thompson House, which is open for tours. Two national scenic byways pass through the town: the Great River Road and the Crowley's Ridge Parkway. The byways both extend north from Helena-West Helena into the St. Francis National Forest. The Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, formerly known as the King Biscuit Blues Festival, is held each October, continuing Helena-West Helena's blues legacy. The Wild Hog Music Festival and Motorcycle Rally is held each April.