Highway 195, or Franklin Street, that runs in front of our house used to be known as the Southwest Trail and it was apparently well-travelled. Historical figures such as Austin, Houston, Crockett and Pike rode through here more than once. The writer Claud Garner who published a fine biography of Sam Houston actually lived in the house we now call home. In fact, many say he built it back in 1918. When I read his pulp novel, Cornbread Aristocrat, I recognized quite a few familiar landmarks and other fictionalized features of Washington, Ark.
My wife and I walk parts of the Southwest Trail almost every day and so we understand it when history books refer to Washington as being situated atop a sandy hill. If we walk north of town, we descend about a half-mile down to the railroad tracks. We pass two courthouses, the 1874 and the 1836, as we go down. Washington quit being the county seat when railroads made Hope the center of commerce. There are not many pedestrians on the north part of the trail because of the daunting climb back up to town, but we feel the need for vigorous breathing for senior aerobic fitness. Folks like us need to get some sustained heart rate elevation at least once a day.
If we walk south, we do so one block off the paved Ark. 195, a dirt road that may have been the original trail. Anyway, it is a pretty good descent as well as it meanders through some historic buildings, a little forested area and across a plank bridge to the Southwest Arkansas Archives building. This part of the walk is very beautiful in late October because the leaves have started to change. Sassafras leaves have more variety than the others, fading from orange to yellow to red, sometimes on the same tree. Of course, sweet gum trees have variety as well, but on our trail, it seems that dark purple is the favored color for these star-shaped leaves. Also, there are plenty of wild flowers still in evidence in the ditches, along with abundant goldenrod.
There are horses to visit on both ends of our walk. Sonny Boy, a young gelding, lives in a pasture that starts at the back corner of our property. He is a rescued horse that the park historian discovered wandering about with a halter grown into his nose. The historian’s family takes really good care of him and he now looks and behaves as if he has always had the great life he now enjoys. Sara and Stella, the big black Percherons that pull tourists around town in the surrey, live on this part of the walk as well. They are exceedingly calm and self-contained animals. These girls do not get excited about anything. The park’s animal manager calls them bomb-proof. They may or may not come over to the fence for a nose rub, depending on their mood.
This historic roadway is a good trail to walk because of healthy hills, beautiful leaves, wild flowers and, of course, nice horses.