Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park is a state park of Arkansas, United States. The park preserves an 18-mound complex located near Bluff City that was occupied from the Late Woodland period through the Protohistoric era and up to the arrival of Anglo-Americans.
Two primitive camping sites are available, accessible via tent pads provided in the park office. Picnic tables sit atop low humus hills, overlooking a grassy knoll that provides expansive views of the St. Francis River Valley.
Nearby attractions include:
- Lake Poinsett State Park
- Cane Creek State Park
- Big Red River State Park
- Hot Spring Nature Park.
Toltec Mounds State Park offers educational programs presented by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in conjunction with the Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Regular scheduled tours are offered daily, except Tuesday and Wednesday. Additional tours may be arranged by special request.
The visitor center includes exhibits featuring photos and memorabilia of famous persons who have visited the site, plus a video presentation. An audio tour of the historic grounds is also available. Outside the visitor center, a model showing how humans might have inhabited the site thousands of years ago is displayed.
Tours of the nearby industrial facilities provide opportunities to learn about the history and development of the site. Facilities include:
- handicap access
- parking lots
- swimming pool
- gift shop
The park hosts campfire circles, hosted once a month by a rotating cast of local volunteer leaders. Each circle consists of a guest speaker, followed by a question and answer session.
Camping fees apply and reservations are required. To register for a free spot at the fire circle, guests must have their driver’s license on file with the parks department. Toltec Mounds State Park receives nearly 640,000 visitors annually. According to Eureka Street, a website devoted to covering the arts and culture in Humboldt, Rand, and Lee counties, Toltec Mounds attracts almost exactly half of the county’s residents.
Toltec Mounds State Park offers overnight accommodations in the form of rustic cabins nestled in the forest. Twelve cabins are available, ranging from one to three bedrooms in size. All feature electric heat, refrigerator, microwave, dining table, chairs, and futon sofa. Bathrooms boast showers, toilets, and sinks. Half of the cabins are pet friendly. Pets are allowed in specified areas of the park, but are prohibited in others. Areas of the park allowing pets include the West Area, the Cove Area, the Frontage Ditch, and the Backwater Pond.
Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park became a ceremonial center for regional rulers and important people such as Tecumseh and his British allies during the War of 1812. Visitors can still see some of the mounds in use today, including one that serves as a picnic area. The site has been preserved within the St. Francis River National Wildlife Refuge, which protects bottomland hardwood forests along the river.
In 1967, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) acquired 1,400 acres of land bordering the refuge with the intention of creating a new archaeological preserve at the site. However, local citizens protested, claiming that the government had not reached out to them regarding the project and did not have their consent. As a result, USFWS officials agreed to form a partnership with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES), who would work with the agency on developing the site into an archaeological district.
On May 15, 1968, Toltec Mounds was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. A year later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Toltec Mounds State Historical Site. Construction began soon after on four low humus mounds and two conical mounds, all of which were completed in time for the 1970 season. The following year, three additional conical mounds were built, bringing the total number of mounds to nine. At least ten structures are included in the designation, seven of which remain standing. Of these, five are completely or partially constructed from stone, while the other two contain substantial amounts of material excavated from the original mounds.
There were frequent changes in political control, resulting in shifting alliances and conflicts among the many groups living in central and northern Arkansas. During one particularly violent period, spanning approximately 150 years, beginning roughly around 550 BCE, the ancestors of the Kincaid family ruled what is now southeastern Arkansas. They established themselves in the Pine Mountain region, and built a capital called Pinnacle Point, which served as the primary residence for several generations.
Around 375 CE, another group of immigrants arrived, settling in the Sand Gap region. These were the ancestors of the Harrington family, whose descendants lived in the vicinity of Toltec Mounds until the mid-18th century, when they migrated west to Kentucky. Records show that William Harrington, son of Richard Harrington, owned land in present-day Monroe County, just prior to 1782.
Shortly thereafter, he and his wife Mary Ann settled permanently in southwest Arkansas. Their children were born in southwestern Arkansas, and went on to marry and start families of their own. For example, John Baskin, one of William’s grandsons, married in 1823 and had eight children, most of whom were born in Southwest Arkansas. Although the exact location of the town of Harrington is unknown, research published in 2005 placed it in southeast Arkansaw Territory, at the junction of Grand Gulf and Lake Poinsett. Based upon historical records, archeology, and topography, the team led by Dr. Bill Fries proposed that the site of Harrington was actually beside Little Red River, not far from Highway 36.
On June 5, 2006, the state House of Representatives passed HB 2528 unanimously to establish the Toltec Mounds State Park. The bill was signed by Governor Mike Huckabee on June 13, making Arkansas the first state to create a modern day “state park within a state park.” The park officially opened to the public on July 26, 2007. Today, more than 6,000 square feet (560m2) of protected land, comprising thirteen separate tracts, make up the park. Sixteen miles of hiking trails run throughout the property, divided into easy, moderate, and difficult sections.