The first thing to know if you happen to be planning to visit every county seat in Arkansas, Linda Grossmann will tell you, is that although the state has seventy-five counties, there are eighty-five county seats. “Arkansas became a state in 1836, and transportation being what it was at the time, if you had to cross a river or a mountain, they just established two county seats, and they’ve kept it that way,” says Grossmann, who throughout the last year visited and documented every county seat and all fifty-two state parks across the Natural State.
“My late husband and I traveled until we’d been to all fifty states,” she says. “I’ve been all over the world, but then I wasn’t sure I’d seen all of Arkansas.” With her bridge club canceled and Sunday school convening virtually, the then-seventy-four-year-old embarked on solo daytrips from her home in Maumelle, taking anywhere from a thirty minute jaunt from her house into downtown Little Rock, to a fourteen-hour-round-trip drive to explore the north-central part of the state.
Grossmann saw the Eiffel Tower replica in small-town Paris, walked the picturesque main street in Batesville, and learned the haunted history of the courthouse in Arkansas City, near where she grew up. “It’s said to be haunted by someone who claimed he was wrongfully convicted,” she says. “He apparently cursed the clock, which does not keep the correct time, even though it was made electric a few years ago.”
She traveled the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway” along Highway 67, where Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, and Jerry Lee Lewis played in nightclubs in the fifties. In Walnut Ridge, she snapped photos of Beatles Park, where a statue depicting John, Paul, Ringo, and George greets visitors. Beatlemania in northeast Arkansas may seem incongruous, but in 1964, the Beatles made a quick pit stop at the town’s tiny airstrip on a Friday night to switch planes before heading to a ranch in Missouri that could not accommodate their large jet. “Anybody awake at the time came to the airport and saw it was the Beatles. When they came back to get their plane on Sunday, hundreds of people were waiting,” Grossmann says. “The Beatles put Walnut Ridge on the map, even though they probably spent ten collective minutes there.”
Arkansas’s natural wonders presented delights, too. “We have a magnificent state park system—it’s so diverse.” Grossmann hit them all, walking the picturesque hiking trails of Mount Nebo and lingering in Conway Cemetery State Park just a few miles north of the Louisiana line, a graveyard next to a cow pasture where James Conway, the state’s first governor, is buried. Other parks surprised Grossmann. “There are four or five battle sites no more than a marker. Two are just museums. One is an arboretum. Most, though, are tied to the natural beauty—mountains, rivers, lakes, creeks, springs.”
The only time she fell short of exploring every bit of a park was at Louisiana Purchase State Park near Holly Grove. “I’m not typically frightened of anything,” she says, “but this park is basically just a couple of port-a-potties, a wooden walkway trail, and a marker in the middle of the swamp. I was the only person there and the deeper I got into the swamp, the more densely forested it became and the more I thought about snakes and spiders and serial killers.” She turned around before reaching the marker, yanking a photo from the internet for her journals.
Although her checklist is now complete, Grossmann is not opposed to revisiting her favorite places, and perhaps this time will take some of her ten grandchildren with her. “Seventy years I’ve lived here, but this last year, I learned so much that I’d never known,” she says. “We’re all products of the past, and it’s important to know where we stand. It’s important to know our roots and get out and appreciate where we live.”