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Deal of the century
Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri celebrate the Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial

Published: Mar/Apr 2003
By Theresa Russell

Thomas Jefferson, our third president (above )/Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.The Louisiana Purchase State Park and National Historic Landmark near Brinkley, Ark., contains the marker of original survey for the Purchase. (below)/Arkansas Parks and Tourism photo
It was the world’s greatest real estate deal.

In 1803, the United States doubled its size by purchasing 600 million acres from France for $15 million, approximately 3 cents per acre. Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and 10 other states–or partial states–would be carved from the deal.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, and Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri have plans to celebrate. Special events and exhibits will enable travelers to focus on history, visual arts, family activities or a combination of offerings. There’s so much to discover, several trips may be in order.

“We are hoping people will plan long weekend or family vacations to tour areas of the state that are hosting Louisiana Purchase events,” said Arkansas Secretary of State Sharon Priest.

To put the Louisiana Purchase in perspective for you and your family, check out these offerings. While the list is not complete, it provides a starting point for your exploration of history.

Landmark events in Louisiana

For those interested in seeing the original Louisiana Purchase documents loaned from the National Archives, head to the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Learn about the events before, during and after the Purchase, as well as profiles of the people involved. This exhibit will run through Aug. 17.

For a thorough historic overview, don’t miss an exhibit, “A Fusion of Nations, A Fusion of Cultures: Spain, France, the United States and the Louisiana Purchase” that runs through May 24 at The Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal St.). Documents, paintings and other historic materials from archives in Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United States will be on view.

The arts contribute to any civilization and that is certainly the case here. Whether the art is historic or contemporary, visual or aural, it will be seen and heard throughout the bicentennial.
Billed as the premier exhibition of the Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial, “Jefferson’s America and Napoleon’s France” can be seen at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park, April 12–Aug. 31. Paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, documents and furniture will illustrate the cultural exchange between France and America that began with the Louisiana Purchase.

The Alexandria Museum of Art has the pleasure of hosting an exhibit, “The Heart of Spain: A Rare Exhibit of Spain's Sacred Art, Antiquities and Icons,” which will run Labor Day through Nov. 30. The exhibit contains works from the 18th and 19th century when the Spanish influence was prominent in Louisiana. Works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya as well as pre-Christian, Byzantine and Gothic pieces count among this fine collection that has not been seen outside of Spain.

Musical compositions have been commissioned to celebrate the purchase and several performances will take place throughout Louisiana. The world premiere of “Lewis and Clark,” a work by native Louisianans, will take place in Lake Charles. This composition includes both orchestral and choral components and contains a movement that explores the Purchase from the point of view of American Indians, Creoles and blacks.

Opera fans will enjoy “Corps of Discovery: An Opera in Three Acts,” presented by the Monroe Symphony Orchestra in September. The rigors of daily life during the Lewis and Clark Expedition are the focus of this opera. The New Orleans Opera Association will premier “Louisiana Purchase,” another original work.

There’s a collection of events for children during this bicentennial year, including in Lake Charles a hands-on exhibit at the Children’s Museum that features period costumes.

Archives in Arkansas

The original surveying of the territory started in Arkansas. The base marker for the survey of the Louisiana Territory is located at the Louisiana Purchase State Park and National Historic Landmark near Brinkley. Maps and documents relating to the survey will be displayed at more than 20 museums and sites across Arkansas.

Arkansas Heritage Month in May will focus on the Purchase with the original treaty documents from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. on display at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. Other activities, events and exhibits will take place throughout this month.

Families will enjoy the activities and events promoted during Arkansas Heritage Month with events focusing on the Louisiana Purchase. Re-enactments, dancing, music and an encampment are being presented at the Territorial Fair at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

Although they are the best-known explorers, Lewis and Clark were not the only people to set off into the vast unknown. William Dunbar and George Hunter were sent by President Jefferson to explore the Ouachita River. They also explored much of the southern portion of the Louisiana Territory.

“Filling Up the Canvas: A Voyage Up the Washita” is an exhibit at the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover through Dec. 31 that recounts events of this exploration, the explorers, the geology of the land and excerpts from the journals of Dunbar and Hunter.

The Arkansas State Park System is heavily involved in the bicentennial and offers many family events, including chautauquas in June, frontier living workshops, candle making, clothing and American Indian lifestyle demonstrations.

Moving on from Missouri

With the addition of the new land, exploration was high on the nation's priority list. On May 14, 1804, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Charles, Mo., to explore the Louisiana Territory and see just what was purchased from France. Many events that focus on the Lewis and Clark exploration will coincide with the Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial in Missouri.

The Gateway Arch Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and its Museum of Westward Expansion in St. Louis are the perfect places to learn more about these two great explorers. “Lewis and Clark: The Great Journey West” is the current film shown in the museum’s IMAX theater. The movie will run through Labor Day.

On April 30, a ceremony to observe the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase will be held at the state’s Capitol in Jefferson City. Gov. Bob Holden will read portions of the treaty, and the Missouri National Guard band will perform.

Because the Lewis and Clark expedition is so closely intertwined with the Louisiana Purchase, many upcoming Missouri events will take that as a focus. In St. Joseph, Trails West! Annual Arts Festival, Aug. 15–17, emphasizes the expedition.

Fort Osage, located in Sibley, northeast of Independence, is an early outpost of the Louisiana Territory, and visitors may stop by and get a glimpse of life on the frontier.

Wrapping it up

Louisiana’s culmination of the Bicentennial happens in New Orleans on Dec. 20, one year after the opening ceremony at the Historic Kent house in Alexandria. A re-enactment of the Purchase transfer from France to the United States will take place at the Cabildo in New Orleans. President George Bush, the president of France and the king of Spain have been invited to attend this grand finale, an appropriate end to such a splendid celebration.

Theresa Russell is a new contributor from Sylvania, Ohio.

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