The Clothesline Fair in Arkansas
looks at the culture and history of the Ozarks.
By Hannah Hall
Confederate soldiers wake with the sun to brew their coffee over an open fire. Not far away, fresh kettle corn pops to life in a giant iron skillet. Craftsmen from all corners of the country open shop early to display their handiwork. Fiddles and guitars breathe gospel and country tunes into the air, and just down the hill, the kids are square dancing up a storm.
It could all easily be mistaken for a re-enactment of life and times in the 1860s. However, this is no demonstration. It’s the Clothesline Fair, the biggest event of the year at Arkansas’s Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. This year’s fair will be Aug. 30–Sept. 1. It is sponsored by the Prairie Grove Lions Club.
For the crafter in you
For years after the Battle of Prairie Grove was fought, Confederate soldiers held veterans’ reunions on the battlegrounds. The reunions were lively and well attended but were stopped during World War II. After the war, Prairie Grove’s leaders decided it was time to reintroduce the event on the Civil War grounds. In 1951, wires were strung between trees on the park grounds, and all types of local crafts were hung and sold from the clotheslines. The Clothesline Fair was officially born.
The crafts have come a long way in the last 57 years. Officials estimate some 20,000 people will attend the festival this year. About 250 crafters will be there to greet the crowds with their homemade wares: quilts and wooden spoons, candles and jewelry, pottery and watercolor paintings.
Located about 12 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Prairie Grove and its Clothesline Fair is a perfect retreat from shopping malls and interstates. And then, there’s the square dancing.
For the dancer
Tara Cate is 17 years old and can pinpoint where she’s been every Labor Day weekend for the last 13 years: square dancing with her group, Boy Howdy, at the Clothesline Fair. Cate began square dancing when she was 4 years old, a standard age for beginners in Prairie Grove. She followed in the footsteps of both her brother and father.
Though not a typical activity for 21st-century teens, Cate enjoys the dancing, but said that it’s the festive atmosphere that keeps her coming back.
“Knowing that your family is out there in the crowd and that all the tents and exhibits are set up and that you get to perform, it just gets you excited,” she said.
The dancing is divided into two sections: exhibition and competition. Exhibition groups are made up of children ages 4–11. They start dancing in the late afternoon on both Saturday and Monday and finish in the early evening. Competition groups are made up of local teens.
For the rest of us
If crafts or dancing isn’t your thing, the Clothesline Fair offers other possibilities for entertainment. Start the weekend with a parade. It winds through Prairie Grove on Saturday morning and features antique cars, horses, music and candy-tossing kids on floats.
From there, follow your nose to the food, which never disappoints. Head to the Lions’ Club booth for one of their famous roasted chicken dinners or check out the historic Latta Barn for fresh-off-the-grill hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and grilled bologna sandwiches. Kettle corn, funnel cakes, snow cones, cinnamon-roasted almonds and icy-cold sodas round out the fair’s menu.
Meander by the bandstand and you’ll be drawn in by the tunes of live local musicians. On Saturday and Monday the acts range from family singing groups to talented folk music instrumentalists. Stop in on Sunday after 1 p.m. and you’ll be treated to gospel music classics.
If food and music still aren’t enough to get you in the spirit, swing by early Saturday morning to watch (or participate in) the 5K run or the one mile Yankee Dash through the scenic Civil War grounds. You can observe the beautifully restored Rustic Relics, an antique farming display in working action, or peek in the tent of the Civil War re-enactors. Finally, don’t miss Hindman Hall, the park’s museum and visitor’s center, for a history lesson behind the battlegrounds and a refreshingly modern blast of ice-cold air conditioning.
Where to stay and eat
A variety of hotels and motels can be found nearby in Fayetteville, including Hampton Inn, where AAA members receive 10 percent off the best available rate. For a break from festival fare, try dinner at Ella’s Restaurant or take the family to Uncle Gaylord’s Restaurant and try the pizza. The Hampton Inn and Ella’s Restaurant have the AAA three Diamond rating.
National chain lodging, including the AAA three Diamond Hampton Inn & Suites, can be found in nearby Springdale as well. And for great pan-fried chicken, the house specialty since 1947, pay a visit to A Q Chicken House in Springdale. You also can see the Northwest Arkansas Naturals wrap up their inaugural season at the new Arvest Ballpark.
Hannah Hall is a new contributor from Prairie Grove, Ark.