Things to do in Batesville with or without the ghosts

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Rock climbing at Jamestown Crag in Batesville, Arkansas
Rock climbing at Jamestown Crag in Batesville, Arkansas

A town celebrating 200 years is bound to have some ghost stories, and Batesville does not disappoint. Neither does its hospitality.

Located along the shores of the White River, Batesville is a small community located in the north central section of the state about 90 miles from Little Rock. The town can trace its recorded history to 1804, when a squatter was reportedly living in a log cabin where the Poke Bayou enters the White River. By 1812, a settlement had been established as well as a trading post. It is now one of the few cities in Arkansas that has examples of residential architecture from every decade since the 1840s. During the Victorian era, many ornate homes were built and those remaining form the heart of the city's two historic districts.

Its long history lends itself to ghostly tales. For example, there are the vanishing hitchhiker reports and stories of an old usher still hanging around at the Melba Theater. A little girl from time gone by is said to roam the building of Back in Time Antiques. She’s thought to be associated with the Maxfield family, which operated the Maxfield Store in the building that is now home to the antique store. Theodore Maxfield opened his store in 1875 and stocked it with a variety of goods.

Batesville is home to Brown Chapel, an iconic structure, on the Lyon College campus. Despite the historical reality that no children were ever buried on the property, the story persists that the chapel is haunted by the ghosts of children from the Masonic orphanage that formerly occupied the bluff who died and were buried where Brown Chapel now stands. Their ghosts are seen in the shadows on the illuminated steeple each night, and their play has disrupted theatrical and choral rehearsals.

These are just a few of the tales that make for fun conversation, especially in October. But the true fun is visiting Batesville and experiencing all that its present-day inhabitants have to offer.

Here are 11 things to do in Batesville:

Batesville Historic Commercial District

Home to the state’s oldest existing city historic commercial district, it offers a glimpse into the city's past with many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. These days, downtown is stocked with law offices, antique stores, music shops and art galleries. Additionally, new restaurants and businesses have come to the downtown, making it a vibrant part of the city.

A restaurant in downtown Batesville, ArkansasMelba Theater

Located on Main Street, the renovated Melba Theater is a single-screen movie theater that seats about 400 and holds a vintage neighborhood feel for movie-goers. It also features live events and private parties. The theater was constructed in 1875 as an opera house and then converted a few years later to house a mercantile store. It was eventually remodeled in Art deco style and reopened in 1940 to become the states first cinemascope theater and operates again as a theater today. During the holidays, the theater holds A Very Melba Christmas series of classic movies with pre-show entertainment each night. The theater goes all out to add to the holiday ambiance.

Jamestown Crag

Jamestown Crag, just south of Batesville, is one the largest, most exposed areas of Atoka sandstone in the region, making it the best sport climbing rock in northeast Arkansas. With more than 100 bolted routes, Jamestown has chicken head holds, nice gritty texture and styles of climbing that are typical for Arkansas. The tallest route on the rock is 90 feet and routes range in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.13. It’s probably some of the best beginner and intermediate climbing in the country. The rock is easily accessible from the parking lot.

Don’t miss King of the Crag, a climbing competition, usually held in October of each year as a fundraiser and community gathering for climbers.

Old Independence Regional Museum

This museum features award-winning historical exhibits from the 12 counties that comprised the original 1820 Independence County. Within five galleries, exhibits include topics on early settlement, Native Americans, the Civil War and transportation. The research library contains family files and early county records. The museum also has a gift shop.

Mark Martin NASCAR Museum in Batesville, ArkansasMark Martin NASCAR Museum

This museum is a popular attraction in Batesville pointing a radar towards this small city as a spot for NASCAR fans as well as curious individuals to check out. The museum was built in honor of NASCAR racing star and Batesville native Mark Martin and houses many of his trophies, race cars, uniforms, and other racing mementos. After touring the museum, visitors have the option of driving further down the road and making a pit stop in a town currently listed as among the ‘100 Best Small Towns in America' in a nationwide guide.

Poke or Polk Bayou

While there are two camps as to which is the correct name, there is one thing that’s certain. Kayaking and canoeing the bayou, which passes through the downtown as well as rural areas, makes for a great day.

Kayaking the Polk Bayou in Batesville, ArkansasBatesville Motor Speedway

Racing modifieds, super stocks, hobbies, super stars and front-wheel drives on on a three-eighths mile, red clay oval from March through September.

Batesville Community Center

This modern facility features basketball courts, track, catering kitchen, fitness room, meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, plus a lazy river.

Bethel AME Church

This is the oldest religious structure in Batesville and the home of the first black congregation in the town.

Lyon College

The campus of Lyon College, which was known as Arkansas College until 1994, is nestled in the rolling hills of east Batesville. Due to storm damage in the early 1970's, most of the construction is less than 35 years old. Founded in 1872 as Arkansas College, this liberal arts college hosts the annual Arkansas Scottish Festival in late April. Also enjoy the Holloway Theatre, a state-of-the-art facility for collegiate productions and study of the theatre arts in black-box seating for 175 in three-quarter-round or proscenium theatre. The Kresge Gallery hosts exhibits by artists and students. You can hop on mountain bike trails from the campus too.Mountain biking in Batesville, Arkansas

White River Wonderland Christmas in Batesville, ArkansasEvents

Lyon College is home of the Arkansas Scottish Festival, which was initiated in 1980.

Another popular event that takes place in town is the Ozark Foothills Film Festival, which is staged in Batesville and surrounding towns each spring.

The White River Wonderland Christmas light display traditionally opens on Thanksgiving night, as do most lighting events across The Natural State. Batesville’s display has become one of the largest in Arkansas with more than one million lights on display at Riverside Park. The majority of the park lights are coordinated to music that visitors can tune into on their car radio, which makes for an amazing experience. In addition to the drive through light display, Batesville has an ice skating rink, carriage rides and new this year – The White River Express, a shuttle system, modeled after the Polar Express.

Did You Know

With its situation along the White River, Batesville was witness to history. Confederate General Sterling Price moved troops through Batesville during Price's Raid, the last Confederate offensive in the Trans-Mississippi Campaign. U.S. Brigadier General Samuel Ryan Curtis's troops traveled through the town during the second phase of the Pea Ridge Campaign. The Choctaw relocation movement during the Trail of Tears also passed through the town, as did the Southwest Trail, a network of routes that became a major emigration route during the 1820s. These trails, along with other historically significant passageways, are now part of the Arkansas Heritage Trails System.