Helena, Arkansas – Mississippi River Delta Charm.

In his 1883 memoir of his days as a steamboat pilot legendary author, Mark Twain described the town of Helena, Arkansas as “one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi”.

The port town of Helena, Arkansas was founded 50-years earlier on the mighty Mississippi River and with Helena growing from the agricultural wealth of the Delta region.

The Mississippi River Bridge – Looking from the Arkansas side

The Civil War found it’s way to town with the 1863 Battle of Helena and an attempt by the Confederate Army to relieve pressure on the besieged city of Vicksburg but with victory to the Union Army securing eastern Arkansas.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the city grew into a vibrant blues community. As a thriving port town along the Mississippi, Helena was a stop for traveling musicians from all over the South.

Today, Helena is still home to the longest running blues radio show in the country, King Biscuit Time, which helped spark the careers of many famous musicians.

Helena lies immediately on the western side of the Mississippi River from the State of Mississippi along Highway 49 and on this particular lazy Sunday afternoon we took the ‘crossing’ to discover some of the unique brand of Delta charm.

One of the standout charms is the Pillow Thompson House.

The wonderful-looking Pillow Thompson House.

The house was built in 1896 by Jerome B. Pillow, is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture in the South and is the only home in Helena available for tours to the general public.

This stately-looking buidling, according to the Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission’s website, is the only Victorian home in Arkansas with full-wood construction. It is one of several homes in Helena designed by architect George Barber.

What also caught my attention on our visit to Helena was a jet airplane called the “T-Bird”.  The T-33 Shooting Star is a slightly longer version of America’s first jet fighter plane, the F-80. The T-33 made its first flight in March 1948 and is powered by Allison J33-A-23 turbojet engines, the original T-Birds reached a speed of 600 miles per hour.

Lockheed T-Bird No. 51-89665 – entered service in March 1953 as part of the 3520th Pilot Training Wing at Wichita Air Force Base, Kansas.

No.51-89665 – entered service in March 1953 as part of the 3520th Pilot Training Wing at Wichita Air Force Base, Kansas.

Lockheed manufactured this popular airplane until August 1959. Over 5,690 T-Birds rolled off their assembly lines. The aircraft’s clean lines and solid performance made it a favorite of pilots around the world. Many remain in service today, more than sixty years after their first flight.

The one in the photograph – No.51-89665 – entered service in March 1953 as part of the 3520th Pilot Training Wing at Wichita Air Force Base, Kansas. The following year, the plane served the 3555th Combat Crew Training Wing at Perrin Air Force Base, Texas. In the fall of 1955, the Air Force moved this T-Bird to the 3615th Flying Training Wing at Craig Air Force Base, Alabama.

The jet remained in Oklahoma until early 1964, when the Air Force assigned it museum status. Richard L. Kitchens Post No. 41 acquired the plane on loan from the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s.

It was erected 2012 by City of Helena.

And alongside the “T-Bird” is the ‘Merci Train” and one carriage of 49 French railroad box cars filled with tens of thousands of gifts of gratitude from at least that many individual French citizens. They were showing their appreciation for the more than 700 American box cars of relief goods sent to them by (primarily) individual Americans in 1948.

The Merci Train arrived in New York harbor on February 3rd, 1949 and each of the 48 American states at that time received one of the gift laden box cars.

The Merci Train located In Helena. Arkansas & one of 49 gifted by France to the US post WW2.

The 49th box car was shared by Washington D.C. and the Territory of Hawaii. Parades and ceremonies of welcome were conducted in the state capitols and major cities of almost all the states.

The largest and most attended was in New York City where more than 200,000 people turned out to welcome that state’s assigned box car.

Barge on the Mississippi River.

And on the way back to our hotel Bernie’s headcover finds its way into a cotton field.

  • Special thanks to the Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission.


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