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Conway Cemetery State Park, near Walnut Hill (Lafayette County) in southwest Arkansas, preserves a half-acre cemetery containing the grave of the state’s first governor, James Sevier Conway. It is the second-smallest Arkansas state park.
Conway was governor of Arkansas from 1836 to 1840 and a member of “The Family,” a powerful dynasty that dominated early Arkansas politics. During his tenure in office, he was responsible for a budget surplus and many of the state’s initial institutions, including roads, a prison system, and a state bank. An advocate of education, he unsuccessfully requested that the Arkansas General Assembly use the budget surplus to create a public school system and state university. The economic depression of 1837 collapsed the banking system and put the state into debt. Suffering from poor health, Conway resigned as governor in 1840 and died in 1855.
The park is located on grounds that were once part of Conway’s cotton plantation. None of the plantation’s structures remain, and the earliest graves on the site date from 1845. Local residents initially maintained the cemetery, which also contains the graves of Conway’s wife, Mary Jane Bradley Conway, and more than forty other members of the Conway and Bradley families.
Following a lengthy campaign led by Mr. and Mrs. Willie McCalman of Walnut Hill (Lafayette County) and other county residents to secure state assistance in preserving the cemetery, legislation was enacted in 1975 to authorize state acquisition and development of the site. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 23, 1977. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism acquired the site on March 27, 1984, and assumed maintenance and supervision. Subsequent improvements have included a paved parking lot and access road, wooden fencing, and picnic tables. The park, which has no on-site staff, was officially dedicated on March 29, 1986, as part of the state’s sesquicentennial celebration.
Since 1985, the nearby town of Bradley (Lafayette County) has celebrated James Sevier Conway with an annual Governor Conway Days festival, which is held the last weekend in March.
For additional information: Arkansas State Parks-Conway Cemetery. http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/conwaycemetery/ (accessed June 4, 2014).
“Historical Park to be Dedicated.” Arkansas Gazette, March 29, 1986.
“Improved Park Sought for State’s 1st Governor.” Arkansas Gazette, January 2, 1988.
Staff of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 6/4/2014
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