The building was designed by architect Gideon Shryock who had previously designed the Kentucky state capitol building. Shryock chose a Greek Revival style for the building. The original plans were too expensive for the fledgling territory and his assistant George Weigart changed the plans and oversaw construction.
The Arkansas legislature moved into the building while construction was ongoing and some legislators threatened construction workers with bodily harm due to the noise of construction. In 1837 a fatal knife fight between legislators occurred in the legislative chamber.
During the American Civil War the building was used as a barracks by Union troops occupying Little Rock. During reconstruction the building became the central focal point of the Brooks-Baxter War and the building was turned into a fortification during that struggle. The "Lady Baxter" cannon still remains on the grounds.
The building was used as the official state capitol until the new capitol building was constructed in 1912. For a time the building served as a medical school.
The Old State House was renamed as the 'Arkansas War Memorial' and was used as an office building for federal and state agencies as well as a meeting place for patriotic organizations.
In 1947 the state legislature passed acts making the Old State House into a museum. The museum front entrance was the site of President Bill Clinton's presidential campaign announcement and the site of his election night celebrations in both of his runs for the White House. The building underwent major renovation in 1996.
The building continues to serve as a museum with exhibits related to Arkansas history and culture. Permanent exhibits include a collections of Civil War battle flags, the inaugural gowns of governors' wives, Arkansas art pottery, and African-American quilts.