10:14 PM / Tuesday June 6, 2023

26 Apr 2013

The Soul of Arkansas (part two)

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April 26, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Bentonville Museum


By Renée S. Gordon


One of the most unique ways to continue our passage through Arkansas is to ride the rails on the 1880 Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Tourist Train from Van Buren to Springdale. The 67-mile trip is taken aboard vintage and historic rail cars. This train is one of the few in the US that still operates both commercial and passenger services. The scenic, narrated ride takes you over three trestles and through an 1800’s, 1,702-ft. tunnel, in the Boston Mountains. The train has been used in movies including “The Tuskegee Airmen.”


Springdale is home to Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, the regional repository for the history of the Northwest Arkansas Ozarks and the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks with a focus on indigenous plants. Additionally Springdale is an active tourists’ delight. Visitors can enjoy fishing, golf, hiking and a variety of other outdoor activities.


Lots were laid out in a new county, Benton, and the city of Bentonville was founded in an area that had once been a Native American hunting ground. Both the county and the city were named in honor of Mississippi Senator Thomas Hart Benton.


The Civil War caused havoc in Bentonville. In March of 1862 the Battle of Pea Ridge, the first major battle to employ Native American troops, took place only 12-miles from the town. By 1865, approximately three buildings remained intact.


Sam Walton was born in Oklahoma in 1918 and graduated from college in 1940, entered the US Army in 1942 and wed Helen Robson a year later. Upon leaving the service in 1945 he borrowed $20,000 from Helen’s father to purchase a Ben Franklin variety store franchise in Newport, Arkansas. After being forced out of the location because of lease renewal issues he opened a new store in Downtown Bentonville with a 99-year lease on May 9, 1950. On July 2, 1962 he opened his first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Ark. By 1991 Wal-Mart was the largest retail chain in the nation and by 2009 yearly sales passed $400-billion.


Walmart Visitor Center, notable for its red and white striped awning is located inside Walton’s original 5 &10. Tours are interactive, self-guided and begin in an area reminiscent of an old-fashioned variety store filled with retro items for sale. The floor and tin ceiling are original. Once inside the museum area an eight minute orientation video is available for viewing. Exhibition cases are filled with family memorabilia, awards and displays on Walmart’s global impact. Featured items in the collection are Helen’s wedding dress, Sam’s 1979 red Ford F150 custom pickup truck and his office, moved here after his death. Tours end in the Spark Café, a 1950s era soda fountain complete with booths and 1950s prices.


Bentonville’s Peel Mansion and Historic Gardens is the only historic mansion in a Walmart parking lot in the country. Colonel Samuel Peel built the 1875 Italian Villa-styled mansion and raised nine children there. Special features of an interior tour include Greek Revival trim in the parlor and staircase with a handcrafted banister.


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the dream of Alice Walton, Sam’s youngest child, brought to life by architect Moshe Safdie. The museum is designed to follow the natural creek bed and to integrate the landscape and the architecture. It replicates a bridge but in a reversal cables support the walls and ceilings. The 120-acre complex opened in 2011 on Walton land near Crystal Bridges Springs. The galleries are curved, special hardware was developed to hang the artwork, and are chronological. Of the more than 1,000 pieces in the permanent collection 450 are on display and showcase the largest collection of colonial portraits all in one place.


Outdoors a series of trails for all ability levels have been developed. The one mile Dogwood Trail is the longest and winds through 500 dogwood trees. The 1/3-mile Art Trail features a few of the 12 exterior sculptures. You must visit this museum and while you are there don’t miss a trip to the gift shop. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is free to the public with the exception of special exhibits.


David Bogle began his collection by purchasing a collection of arrowheads in 2002. He rapidly expanded his interest to amassing the most exemplary Native American objects he could locate. In 2008 he moved his collection from his first museum into a larger, 5,000-sq. ft., facility. Exhibits are chronological and span 16,000 years of history beginning with the Paleo-period. Visitors pass from the pre-historic to the historic eras through a teepee. Self -guided audio tours are available for visitors to provide information on exhibits. Admission is free.


Bentonville is noted for its eclectic dining scene. There are many restaurants to select from but believe me, a stop at Fred’s Hickory Inn for handsmoked barbecue is a great idea. It is located inside a former church camp and the Clintons were here the night he announced that he would run for office.


For thousands of years Native Americans lived in and around the Eureka Springs region. In the early 1800s when the first non-native settlers arrived they found they were on land used by the Osage tribe as a hunting ground, “the Land of the Blue Skies and Laughing Waters,” and by the 1830s all of the Indians were gone. Reportedly Dr. Alvah Jackson heard native legends of the springs’ healing qualities and in 1856 he brought his son to the springs and cured his eye disease. Based on this cure he established Dr. Jackson’s Cave Hospital during the Civil War to treat the wounded. Along with the healing water he applied herbal medicines concocted from native recipes.


Judge Levi Saunders arrived in 1879 and after being cured of a skin ailment he moved to the area and induced other families to do the same. He promoted the springs as having the ability to cure a list of ailments including diabetes and rheumatism. The town was named Eureka, “I have found it,” by the Scots and Irish who settled there. Tram tours are offered and they are the best way to obtain an overview of the Victorian city. It is not easy to navigate the streets because the houses were constructed before the streets were laid out. It has been voted one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations.”


The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, designed by Isaac L. Taylor, is “the” Eureka Springs icon. It is situated on West Mountain overlooking the town. The $294,000 limestone structure has 3-ft. thick walls and when opened had such modern amenities as electric lighting, elevators, stables and an outdoor pool. Even with all this opulence guests began to lose interest and from 1908-24 it functioned as both a resort and Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women.


In 1937, Norman Baker converted it to a cancer hospital where he dispensed his miracle cure and the third floor became a cancer asylum for those who were in severe pain and dying so that other patients did not see or hear them. In the basement Baker installed a morgue. It is believed that he bilked patients out of several million dollars and to protect his empire he installed two submachine guns and was surrounded by armed guards.


Crescent Ghost Tours takes you to through the most haunted hotel in America. It appears that many people just never check out and some of the rooms are so infamous that they are booked two years in advance.


This Crescent was recently restored and packages and specials can be reserved online.


Thorncrown Chapel was voted the winner of the of American Institute of Architecture’s (AIA) Design of the Year Award in 1981 and one of the AIA’s list of Buildings of the Century. The chapel is situated on the outskirts of Eureka Springs on a 25-acre wooded plot of land. E. Fay Jones designed the chapel and locals constructed it out of wood, glass and stone. Thorncrown is 48-ft. tall with 425 windows using 6,000-sq. ft. of glass. Upon completion in 1980 Jones said that it reminded him of the crown of thorns and gave it the name.


The Great Passion Play has been performed in the Ozarks since 1968. The 500-ft., exterior, stage set is built into the hillside and is three stories tall. Live animals and more than 100 actors bring the last days of Christ to life. The 2013 season begins on May 3rd. You should arrive early enough to visit Christ of the Ozarks, the Sacred Arts Center and the Bible Museum before attending the performance.


On top of the 1500-ft. Magnetic Mountain stands the third tallest statue of Christ in the world, Christ of the Ozarks. The idea of building the statue was Gerald Smith’s and he hired Emmet Sullivan to construct it. The 2 million pound result is a 67-ft. tall sculpture with arms spreading 65-ft.


The Sacred Arts Center displays more than 1,000 artworks dating from the 9th-century to the modern era and more than 7,000 Bibles in 625 languages are featured in the Bible Museum. Highlights of the Bible Museum are an original 1611 King James Bible, one of only 47 in existence, and the only 1899 Bible signed by all the Gideons.


Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) is the largest such facility in the world. Founded in 1991 it opened to the public in 1995 with the goal of rescuing large animals from private citizens who can no longer care for them and providing refuge. They do not buy, breed, trade or sell any of their animals and they are supported by donations. Currently TCWR has 33 natural enclosures and more than 100 exotic cats and 6 black bears. Visitors can take a tour or choose to overnight in one of five safari lodges. Turpentine Creek has been featured on ESPN and National Geographic.


The Inn of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs is the ideal resort for this portion of the trip through Arkansas. Situated on 34-acres in close proximity to all sites and attractions it offers all the standard amenities and daily breakfast, Jacuzzi suites, miniature golf and a Jacuzzi spa.


I wish you smooth travels!



The 2013 Annual Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival will take place on June 1, 2013 in South Carolina’s Mt. Pleasant Waterfront Memorial Park within the Gullah Geechee Culture Heritage Corridor. The festival will interpret the Gullah Geechee culture and heritage through a series of seminars, crafts, performances, exhibits, demonstrations and living cultural treasures in the fields of history, sweetgrass basket weaving, music, fashion and cuisine. This is a festival in every sense of the word with drummers, dancers, shopping and dedicated children’s activities. Admission and parking are free.

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