Set on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, Arrow Rock, Missouri, (population 75) was named for the flint that Native Americans took from the bluff to make arrowheads. Lewis and Clark noted the bluff on their journey, and it was a prominent landmark for many travelers passing westward on the Santa Fe Trail. Arrow Rock was briefly known as Philadelphia when the town was first settled in 1829, but by 1833 the name was changed to coincide with the landmark. By 1860 the town was the most important river port in Saline County and had nearly 1,000 residents. After the railroads bypassed Arrow Rock, the population dwindled.
Twentieth century preservation has brought new life to Arrow Rock as visitors come to experience a wealth of 19th century buildings. The entire town was named a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1963. Another local site, the 1837 home of artist George Caleb Bingham, is also an NHL. A local non-profit historic preservation organization, Friends of Arrow Rock, was founded in 1959. Today the 800-member group owns 10 restored historic buildings and leads tours of the town for visitors.
The Lyceum Theatre is a former 19th century church that reopened as a theater in 1961. Since then, the theater has grown and now produces eight professional plays and musicals each season. Each October brings the Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival, held annually since 1968. The festival features 19th century crafts such as cooking apple butter, blacksmithing, gunsmithing, basket weaving, knitting, and weaving. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Arrow Rock one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2006, acknowledging it as a unique vacation spot.
Recognizing that their cultural heritage is vital to tourism in Arrow Rock, citizens continue to protect the community’s historic characteristics. The National Park Service listed Arrow Rock as a threatened National Historic Landmark in 2001. The threatened status related to changes made to historic structures through modern materials such as vinyl siding. The town of Arrow Rock, together with its Board of Architectural Review and the Friends of Arrow Rock, hired a preservation consultant to create a set of written design guidelines. With a grant from the National Park Service and matching funds from Arrow Rock, the Friends of Arrow Rock, and individuals, the result was an 80-page document that was published in 2005 and distributed to all Arrow Rock citizens. The completion of the guidelines allowed the village to be removed from the list of threatened NHLs. Arrow Rock was also able to apply for Certified Local Government status, which it was granted in February 2005. In 2007, drawing from its own experiences, Arrow Rock sponsored a Design Guidelines Workshop with 85 participants from 24 Missouri communities.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2008.