The Cultural History of Mount Magazine
There is little archeological evidence that Native Americans lived on Mount Magazine. A few scattered projectile points indicate that they hunted big game here, but a lack of pottery and other types of artifacts seems to say they did not occupy the crest of the mountain throughout the year. Extreme winter weather probably pushed them to lower elevations.
French hunters and explorers named most sites along the Arkansas River in the 1600s and 1700s. However, as waves of new settlers entered the Arkansas Territory, some names changed. In 1819, botanist Thomas Nuttall wrote of his observations as he traveled up the river. Near Dardanelle Rock a prominent landmark was called Magazin for its shape resembling a storehouse. That mountain is now called Mount Nebo. All of the mountains between the Arkansas and Petit Jean Rivers were called the Magazines. As Nuttall continued up river, he wrote that "a lofty ridge appears to the south called by the French the Cassetete, or Tomahawk Mountain." Later surveyors and mapmakers called it Reveille or Revolee Mountain. Eventually, each Magazine mountain had an official name with the largest of them representing the whole range.
Families began settling on Mount Magazine after the Civil War. Almost every flat area was farmed. Names of those early settlers, like Cameron, Benefield, Brown, and Greenfield, are still used today. However, none of their buildings are still standing. Old wagon roads and stone fences can be found in many areas.
A railroad brought many people to the Petit Jean valley around the turn of the century. Passengers were awed by the scenic beauty and spread the word about wonderfully cool Mount Magazine in Arkansas. In 1900, the railroad company decided to develop the west end into a resort town, which included streets, parks, a post office, and a hotel called the Skycrest Inn, the mountain's first hotel. Near the inn was a dance pavilion, which was later converted into more hotel rooms. This structure stood over the very western tip of the mountain.
The Buckman Inn and the Greenfield log cabin camp followed in the 1920s. These two inns and cabins welcomed travelers to this mountaintop until all these facilities were closed and removed in 1930s.
All good things come to an end and this peaceful period on the mountain was no exception. Farms wore out, the stock market crashed, and people had no money for leisure. Most of the land on the mountain was turned over to the government because of unpaid taxes during the 1930s.
The U.S. Resettlement Administration oversaw other federal programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Together, these developed projects and created jobs in those economic hard times.
Their most important accomplishment was constructing a road across the mountain from Havana to Paris
which later became part of Scenic Byway 309. Dams were constructed to create Cove Lake and Spring Lake. Nature trails led visitors to scenic vistas. An amphitheater, resembling something from ancient Greece, provided a unique location for sunrise services.
The most remembered structure of the period was the Mount Magazine Lodge. This beautiful two-story building featured 26 guest rooms, a kitchen, dining room, and a stone patio with a wonderful view of the Petit Jean River Valley and the Ouachita Mountains. On either side of the lodge were 18 cabins. That lodge burned in 1971.
Visitation dropped with the fall of the lodge, but the spirit of the mountain was renewed with the planning of a new state park. Arkansas Act 884 of 1983 authorized Arkansas State Parks to establish Mount Magazine State Park. Arkansas State Parks entered into a partnership with the USDA Forest Service to develop the park in 1998. With careful consideration for the mountain's unique fauna, flora, and history, less than one percent of the 2,234 acres will be developed. A visitor center welcomes travelers with exhibits and information of the mountain. A campground with a modern bathhouse makes for a base from which the mountain can be explored. Hiking trails lead to many historic and scenic sites. A new lodge and 13 cabins accommodate tourists on virtually the same sites as the structures built by WPA and CCC crews over 70 years ago.