Helena Museum of Phillips County
aka: Helena Library and Museum
The Helena Museum of Phillips County began as part of the Helena Library. The library was built at 623 Pecan Street by the local building firm, Raenhart and Simon, in 1891. The three-story building was painted pink to reflect its Mediterranean style. To meet the growing need for a space to display the many artifacts that were given to the library by citizens of Helena, a separate building, designed by Andrew Pomerory Coolidge, was completed in 1930 to house what was to be the museum. The museum was one of the few buildings in Arkansas in the 1920s to be built solely as a museum and not converted from a former residence, church, or office building. The connecting library and museum buildings were placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1975.
The purpose of the Helena Museum of Phillips County, as envisioned by the Board of Directors of the Helena Library and Museum Association, was to “collect and display objects of rarity and interest that the citizens of Phillips County would not otherwise have access to.” The museum took over the old library building and has expanded its exhibit space. The permanent exhibits include a large collection from the Thomas A. Edison Foundation, a growing collection of military uniforms and equipment from wars of the United States, with one room dedicated to Civil War artifacts. Two dioramas depict the Battle of Helena and the Confederate Cemetery. There are also paintings and portraits, including two from the Kress Foundation. A vast collection of Native American artifacts from the surrounding area and the southwestern United States is displayed. This exhibit includes many intact clay ceremonial items and arrowheads. A large collection of books, papers, photos, and signed documents spans the nation’s history.
According to legend, the museum also houses a ghost who walks the balcony at night waiting for her beau to cross the Mississippi River to meet with her.
With grants from the Arkansas Arts Council and the Helena-West Helena Advertising Promotion Commission, the museum in 2012 acquired a bronze statue of Major General Patrick Cleburne, an Irishman who had lived in Helena and fought for the Confederacy, to commemorate the Civil War sesquicentennial. Helena and Phillips County provided the Confederacy with seven generals during the Civil War. Their histories and portraits are on exhibit in the museum.
For additional information:
“Helena Library and Museum.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PH0108.nr.pdf (accessed November 4, 2021).
Helena Museum of Phillips County. http://www.helenamuseum.com/ (accessed November 4, 2021).
Joe Ann Hargraves and Jeannie Turley
Helena Museum of Phillips County
When I was growing up in Helena-West Helena, the Library and Museum were important to me. The little music room in the back was the place where my education in music began, leading me to a lifetime as a professional musician. I loved the rows and rows of books and the fragrance of them. I am so grateful to the town fathers who had the vision and wisdom to provide this wonderful place that was both a refuge from the Delta heat and a doorway into my future.
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