Downtown Batesville
Downtown Batesville

Southern hospitality that flows like our river

A Mark Martin NASCAR 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.

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. Holding title as the second oldest city in the state, the town is packed with history. The city 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. Within a few years, a little settlement had been established as well as a trading post, owned by John Reed and which sold "whiskey and notions." Within a few more years, the settlement was getting heavy exposure as thousands of pioneers were traveling across the state on the Old Southwest Trail, which crossed the White River just below Batesville. The first post office in town was the "Poke Bayou", which opened in late 1820. The town was surveyed a few months later and called Batesville, a name chosen in honor of James Woodson Bates, the first Arkansas territorial delegate to Congress.

Steamboats ushered in a new age for the city and river transportation remained vital to the region for more than 70 years. In the early 1900's, the federal government attempted to extend year-round shipping to the upper White River by erecting locks and dams above the city. However, a railroad was completed along the river which effectively killed the steamboat industry instead. Only three of the proposed ten locks and dams were completed. Currently, Lock and Dam No. 1 serves as a backdrop for the city's Riverside Park. Progress of the town was abruptly halted during the Civil War, but the city was spared the destruction experienced by other towns in the state. 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. The Maxfield-Garrott House, built on Main Street in the early 1840's, is believed to be the oldest surviving home.

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.

These days, downtown is stocked with law offices, antique stores, music shops and art galleries and has many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. These include buildings such as the Melba Theater, 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 still operates now as a theater. Another building of note is the Wade Building, which was originally built in 1924 by Victor Wade to house a print shop and the Batesville Record. The Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce office building is styled after the 1828 brick home of pioneer John Ringgold, which stood on lower Main Street for 130 years. The new campus of Lyon College, which was known as Arkansas College until 1995, 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. It is also the 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. Another highlight of the town is the Old Independence Regional Museum at Ninth and Vine Streets. The city also hosts a local speedway where Mark Martin got his start. The speedway is open Saturday nights during the warm seasons. The town is less than 40 miles from both Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center making side trips easily accessible as well.