One Tank Travels: Bentonville

I cannot think of another town that is more distinctive of America than Bentonville is right now. It represents small town America, the ultimate American Dream, and now also offers the distinguishable culture of American art.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Bentonville for a staff meeting. I stood with my coworkers on the sidewalk of the square and watched the buzz of activity. Two girls rode a tandem bike around the Civil War statue in the middle of the square as a man selling ice cream from his bike pedaled past them from the opposite direction. Locals, business people and a few visitors strolled by on their way to eat, shop, or work. The scene had Mayberry written all over it. It’s pure Mayberry in looks, and a hip Mayberry with it’s extremely yummy restaurants and artsy boutiques and fine art galleries.

The small-town feel of Bentonville belies the corporate energy of the international headquarters of Walmart’s Stores Inc. and the cultural significance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, both located near the heart of the city. That contradiction is a big part of what makes it so appealing, and so Americana.

The City of Bentonville was established in 1837 with a population of 30 and incorporated in 1873 with a population of 500. Today, Bentonville is home to more than 36,000 people and is visited by hundreds of vendors to Walmart, which was founded by Sam Walton.

Established in 1836 as the first county seat in the state of Arkansas, Bentonville has maintained the historic character of the town. Within the city limits, there are 72 historical buildings and homes, including the 1875 Peel House Mansion and Historical Gardens. Within Benton County, there are 140 Civil War sites.

The Bentonville town square embraces a Civil War statue, benches, fountain, and beautiful gardens surrounded by quaint shops. The 1928 Benton County Courthouse is a three-story neo-classical structure designed by A.O. Clark. During the Civil War, all but 12 of the buildings downtown were burned. Therefore, the main business buildings around the square were constructed between 1875 and 1888. A main attraction on the square is the Walmart Visitor Center. The center is housed in Sam Walton’s original variety store, which now traces the origin and growth of Walmart. The recently renovated center was created as an educational and informative facility about this American retailing success story.

Staying true to their roots, the Walton family has had a substantial impact on this town and region. Founded by Alice Walton on 100 acres of land donated from the Walton Family, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened 11-11-11. It is a a premier art institution dedicated to American art and artists, learning and community gatherings. The main pavilions house a permanent collection of American art masterworks from the colonial era to modern day, and touring collections from national art institutions.

Visitors can enjoy the collection within the state-of-the-art galleries and throughout the surrounding park. Then there are also the dynamic temporary exhibitions right now you can see a copy of the Declaration of Independence!

The museum takes its name from a natural spring on the museum’s wooded site as well as the unique glass-and-wood building design created by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. An innovative building design – reflective of its forested creek-side home and linked by landscaped trails and paths connecting area neighborhoods – captures the interplay of nature, art and culture in the region.

The museum property and grounds are within walking distance of the Bentonville town square, where you will find wonderful places to eat, like Tusk & Trotter, Table Mesa, and the Pressroom. But there are numerous excellent dining options throughout town.

Other popular locales to visit are the Compton Gardens and The Museum of Native American Artifacts. The gardens are located at the former home of Dr. Neil Compton, who spearheaded the effort to protect the Buffalo River. The gardens showcase 6.5 acres of native woodland plants, walking trails and prairie. Three Arkansas Champion Trees are on the site. It is open to public daily from dawn to dusk, and also serves as an event facility and conference center. Located one block north of the downtown square, a multi-use bike trail starts behind the gardens and runs along a ridge overlooking Crystal Bridges. This one-half mile, hard surface trail links to the larger city trail system.

The Museum of Native American Artifacts features artifacts from the private collection of founder David Bogle along with 47 items from the former University of Arkansas Museum. Nine rare pots in the shapes of a head or body are among the pieces on display. The 5,000-square-foot space is west of the downtown.

Mountain bikers are drawn to the 12-mile Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trail. Bentonville is situated in the Ozark Mountain region near lakes, state parks, and numerous outdoor opportunities. Water sports and camping are popular at nearby Beaver Lake. There’s a combination of five more public and private golf courses in Benton County.

In the northwest corner of the state, Bentonville is adjacent to Rogers and Bella Vista, and is 30 miles from Fayetteville. It is five miles from Pea Ridge National Military Park, 19 miles from Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, and 38 miles from Eureka Springs.

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