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History of Petit Jean
Early maps from the 1820s indicate that the Petit Jean River may have originally been named the Petit John River, but later maps show the name as Petit Jean. The mountain was home to cotton farms in the early 20th century, and many settlers experimented with orchards of apples and pears. One pear tree dating from the 1880s is still producing.
Petit Jean’s archeological past is marked by Native American pictographs in the state park. Evidence of corn grinding can be found on stones inside caves, such as the huge Rock House. In the 1920s, the road from Oppelo was built by an improvement district. The construction was done using black powder explosions, with men trucking the dirt in by wheelbarrow.
By the 1930s, Petit Jean Mountain was tapped to become the first state park in Arkansas, begun with the gift of 80 acres from the Fort Smith Lumber company. Named after the legend of Petit Jean, construction began on the park in July 1933. Winthrop Rockefeller arrived at Petit Jean in 1953. At that time, much of the mountain lacked electricity, and the only paved road was Highway 154.
Petit Jean Mountain Today
Today, whether it’s to soak up its history or take in its scenery and recreational activities, Petit Jean is a destination for visitors worldwide. Featuring 10 hiking trails at the state park, ranging from easy to strenuous, as well as dozens of gorgeous viewing spots rising out of the River Valley below, Petit Jean Mountain offers something for both the body and the eyes. One of the most picturesque outlooks is the Cedar Falls Overlook. From there, look out at the 95-foot waterfall from the top.
Petit Jean also has many outstanding recreational opportunities, including fishing on Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt, both homes to a variety of fish. Boat rentals are available during the summer months, but guests can also bring their own for year-around use. Petit Jean State Park also features two pools, two playgrounds, and several great picnic areas. At Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, registered guests have access to fishing and paddle boats on Lake Abby, demonstration gardens, walking and jogging trails, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and more. Learn more about recreation at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.
Petit Jean Mountain is also home to three gift shops, including the Rockefeller Institute’s one-of-a-kind gift shop that was built around the furnishings of a drug store from the early 20th century. Petit Jean State Park has two gift shops. One is centrally located inside Mather Lodge. The other, larger gift shop is located at the Visitor’s Information Center, where camping supplies, books, food and souvenirs are available.