Delta Cultural Center
The Delta Cultural Center in historic downtown Helena-West Helena (Phillips County) is a museum dedicated to the history of the Arkansas Delta. The center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, opened in 1990 with the mission of preserving, interpreting, and presenting the cultural heritage of a twenty-seven-county region.
The Delta Cultural Center was created by the Arkansas legislature via Act 109 of 1989, which specified that the Delta Cultural Center would be an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. At the time, no facility existed to interpret the agricultural, ethnic, and cultural history of the Delta region. The stated goals were to preserve the region’s history and to promote tourism there.
The center features two museum locations—the restored 1912 Union Pacific Railroad Depot and the Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is located at 141 Cherry Street, while the Depot facility is a block away at 95 Missouri Street. The Depot houses staff offices and features the museum’s permanent music exhibit, temporary exhibits, and the museum store. The Delta Cultural Center also includes the Moore-Hornor House (six blocks west from the Visitors Center), the “Miller Hotel” building at 223 Cherry Street, the Cherry Street Pavilion (a large outdoor stage across Cherry Street from the Visitors Center), and, later in 2006, the Temple Beth El, Helena-West Helena’s synagogue. In short, the Delta Cultural Center encompasses several facilities at different locations in Helena-West Helena.
The Visitors Center is home to Delta Sounds, a state-of-the-art music and exhibit area dedicated to the music of the Arkansas Delta: blues, gospel, country, rockabilly, and other Delta musical styles. The exhibits feature the musical legends who had a major impact on music in the Arkansas Delta in the twentieth century. Tell It! Sing It! Shout It! is one portion of the Delta Sounds music gallery. The Delta Sounds room is also the broadcast home for the country’s longest-running daily blues radio show, King Biscuit Time. King Biscuit Time was first broadcast by KFFA radio on November 21, 1941. Each weekday at 12:15 p.m., the Visitors Center presents a live broadcast of the show. Other long- and short-term exhibits at the Delta Cultural Center are named according to their respective topics and feature text, photographs, and artifacts relating to the genre of music and the performers who gained recognition in that genre.
The Depot features two permanent exhibits: Heritage of Determination and The Civil War in the Arkansas Delta. The Heritage exhibits tell the story of the Arkansas Delta from prehistoric times to the present through words, photographs, and artifacts, including a multimedia, searchable, computerized “scrapbook” of Delta memories, as well as an activity for children of all ages, “The Great Boat Race.” The Civil War exhibit focuses on the Battle of Helena, which was fought on July 4, 1863. Nearly 8,000 Confederate troops failed in their attempt to recapture Helena, which had served as a base for Union operations aimed at breaking Confederate control of the Mississippi River and for Union raids of Delta plantations.
The Moore-Hornor House was built in 1859 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is an example of asymmetrical Greek Revival and Italianate architecture. Standing in front of the house, one can view Graveyard Hill, the site of one of the bloodiest fights of the Battle of Helena.
The Cherry Street Pavilion is an outdoor performance stage on the south end of Cherry Street. Since 2004, it has been the home of the Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Festival, the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, and other community performances and events.
The center also helps tell the story of the Delta’s people, commerce, and culture. Working with educators and administrators, the Delta Cultural Center has helped develop lectures, seminars, lesson plans, and printed classroom materials that bring the Arkansas Delta’s cultural heritage to life.
For additional information:
Delta Cultural Center. http://www.deltaculturalcenter.com/ (accessed August 10, 2023).
“Helena Depot (Delta Cultural Center).” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Little Rock, Arkansas
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