Above: Fayettevilles picturesque downtown square features shops, gardens and restaurants.
Below: At the farmers market on the Fayetteville square, shoppers can purchase flowers, produce and more.
with outdoor fun, historic sites.
B Y M A R G A R E T D O R N A U S
|Connected by a ribbon of Arkansas highway that runs from the tip of the Missouri border to the foothills of the Boston Mountains is a cluster of hometown communities that includes Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell and Fayetteville. Residents and visitors have an abundance of natural and manmade resources that provide a quality of living seldom found elsewhere.
In this part of northwest Arkansas is one of the states largest recreational lakes, with acres of clear blue water designed for endless hours of swimming, fishing and boating. Downtown squares brim with personality; and nearby Civil War battlefields resonate with history. A wealth of restaurants, shops and cultural venues rival the entertainment counterparts of larger metropolitan areas.
At the heart of this region is Rogersone of the fastest-growing towns in Northwest Arkansasvalued for its leisure-time proximity to Beaver Lake as well as its easy drive-time distance to its northern neighbor, Bentonville (Wal-Mart headquarters).
Rogers, a town of approximately 43,000, boasts a residential area filled with a variety of housing within a short commute from leading employers such as Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transportation. But Rogers is not a bedroom community. It has enormous civic pride, thanks in part to the efforts citizens have made to preserve their brick-paved downtown.
One of the states earliest Main Street communities (a program sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation), Rogers boasts 23 downtown buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Three are worth a visit.
Poor Richards Gift & Confectionery is furnished with a working antique soda fountain. Its neighbor, the Daisy Air Gun Museum, contains models and the history of locally manufactured Daisy air rifles. And the Victory Theater, Northwest Arkansass first movie theater, is now home to the Rogers Little Theater, with year-round events that include plays, childrens programming and touring exhibits.
Incorporated in 1881 when the first passenger train rolled through on its route from St. Louis to San Francisco, Rogers continues to remember its railroading roots with the Frisco Festival in August that unfolds around a restored Frisco caboose at First and Walnut streets. The attraction is operated by the nearby Rogers Historical Museum, where visitors will find a recitation of local history. Exhibits chronicle the lives of area notables such as Betty Blake (wife of humorist Will Rogers) and early female aviatrix Louise Thaden. Tour the 1895 Hawkins house, as well as reconstructions of an early 20th-century barbershop, bank and general store.
Exploring Bentonville and Lowell
Benton County historical records can be found at Peel House Mansion, home of the Benton County Historical Society. The Italianate mansion, built in 1875 by Col. Samuel West Peel (the first Arkansas native to serve in the U.S. Congress), also includes an expansive garden.
For a modern take on local royalty, visit Wal-Marts Visitor Center housed in the original variety store that Sam Walton operated on Bentonvilles square before building his discount store empire.
A more specialized area retailer is located just south of Bentonville and Rogers in the small community of Lowell. A.G. Russell Knives operates the oldest mail order knife company in the country. And its new retail storeopened in 2002has an extensive inventory of the handmade blades that have won the company accolades for the past four decades.
A college town
The last point on this northwest Arkansas tour is the college town of Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas and a vibrant blend of specialty shops and restaurants just off campus on a newly gentrified Dickson Street.
The towns showpiece, the Walton Arts Center, hosts a variety of Broadway touring companies, as well as nationally recognized musicians, dancers and visual artists. It also is home to the North Arkansas Symphony and has a gallery filled with rotating exhibits.
Just two blocks south of Dickson, the towns picturesque square includes more shops and a well-tended garden space where natives gather from spring through fall for the farmers market, which is held Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The newest meeting placea convention centerprovides a more formal, state-of-the-art facility for conferences and seminars.
Fayettevilles Headquarters House Historic Museum once served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate forces. Another attraction worth visiting is the Arkansas Air Museum, located at Fayettevilles Drake Field, where exhibits and antique planes trace the history of manned flight.
Day trips and more
Two nearby Civil War battlefields provide a days outing. Pea Ridge National Military Park is 10 miles northeast of Rogers. Learn the history of a March 1862 battle that saved Missouri for the Union at this 4,300-acre site. Washington Countys most prominent Civil War site is Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park off U.S. Highway 62. A museum, walking trail and 19th-century buildings are on site.
For a distinctively Victorian experience, Eureka Springs specializes in 19th-century architecture and 21st-century ambience. Boutiques, restaurants and galleries line its historic Spring Street district. A raft of day spas offers everything from traditional Swedish to new age Reiki massage.
If angling is more your style, look no farther for that catch-of-the-day than Beaver Lake, a 30,000-acre body of water thats renowned for its population of largemouth and striped bass. Beaver Lake predominantly covers parts of Rogers as well as its neighbor to the south, Springdale, located in adjacent Washington County.
From Springdale, take a round-trip ride on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroads excursion train, a restored Victorian gem outfitted with inlaid mahogany interiors. The train meanders through the scenic terrain of the Ozark foothills.
Special events for northwest Arkansas include the Historic Home and Garden Tour to feature six houses and gardens in Bentonville on May 15 and 16, 2004.
|Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Ozark, Ark.|
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