Over the years, the name Lakeport has been applied to a number of things here in the Arkansas Delta. If you look on a contemporary highway map you’ll see the name Lakeport beside a dot near the Mississippi River south of U.S. Highway 82 at the terminal point of Highway 142. This marks the spot of a steamboat landing from which thousands of bales of cotton were shipped down river to New Orleans.
If you look at a slightly older map you will see the name applied to a large plantation established before the Civil War by a man named Joel Johnson from Kentucky.
More recently the name Lakeport has been given to the house built on the plantation in 1859 for Joel’s son, Lycurgus, and his wife, Lydia Taylor Johnson. Their descendants remained there until it was sold to Sam Epstein in 1927.
This Lakeport Plantation house is the only remaining Arkansas plantation home on the Mississippi River. Today you can tour it, thanks to a gift in 2001 to Arkansas State University from the Sam Epstein Angel family.
The restoration of the Lakeport Plantation house into a museum and public historic been funded through grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Save America’s Treasures program. Guided tours are offered of the site at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Lakeport Plantation researches and interprets the people and cultures that shaped plantation life in the Mississippi River Delta, focusing on the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. Our mission includes teaching the methods by which we know, develop and remember these stories.
The Lakeport Plantation house was placed on the National Historic Register in 1974 and was designated in 2002 as an official project of the Save America’s Treasures program through the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Plantation has remained in continuous cotton production since the 1830s when slaves carved it from the heavily forested Arkansas frontier. Thus, it provides complete documentation of agricultural development in the region and the accompanying changes in the African American experience. These include the transition from frontier and plantation slavery, to sharecropper and tenant farmer systems, to agricultural mechanization and the resultant mass exodus of African Americans to factories in the North, to large-scale corporate farming.
Arkansas State University operates the site as a museum and educational center, with the house itself as a primary artifact. It is the philosophy of the Restoration Team (and endorsed by the university) that furnished houses have been done well in other places. Rather than create another “pretty house,” or one in which representative furnishings substitute for the original, this restoration and interpretation focuses on the lifestyles and relationships between the people who lived and worked at Lakeport—as slaves and masters, as tenant farmers and land owners.
Through exhibits and ongoing programming, visitors and scholars will develop greater understanding of themes including (1) the westward push for new agricultural lands, (2) the pivotal role of African-Americans in the agricultural development of the region and in shaping the culture that exists today, (3) the differences and similarities in plantation architecture and lifestyles between the Arkansas Delta and other Delta and southern states, (4) the skills, techniques and issues involved in preservation of historic structures, and (5) the ongoing struggle to harness the river, clear the swamps, and convert land to agricultural production.