"Population 33" reads the sign marking the city limit of Gilbert. It's the kind of town where the cemetery contains more headstones than the number of people currently living there. Don't let its size fool you. Gilbert may be a tiny town, but it is big on beauty and charm. As it is said in the real estate business, it's about location, location, location. Gilbert's is prime. It is laid out along the banks of the Buffalo National River in the Ozark Mountains.
The main road in Gilbert ends at the soft gravel bar providing access to the scenic river. The middle section of the Buffalo is noted for its beautiful limestone bluffs, smallmouth bass, and year-round floating. Canoe rental and shuttle service is available. The Gilbert General Store, built in 1901, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under the name Mays Store.
The community was founded in 1902 when a railroad construction camp for the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad was built and named in honor of Charles W. Gilbert, secretary-treasurer of Allegheny Supply Company, which was building the railroad. In 1906, William Mays moved his store and post office from Duff, located a few miles away.
Gilbert was a hub for commerce. Cotton, logs, ore and grain came by rail. Gilbert was eventually the home to a repair shop for the railroad, which ceased operation in 1946. While the tracks were removed and sold as scrap, there are still signs of the railroad where the old concrete supports crossed the Buffalo River. The former rail bed is now a hiking route along the river.
Today, Gilbert contains a few homes, guest houses and cabins for rent, and camping facilities. The Gilbert General Store is still in operation, providing supplies and hunting and fishing licenses. The Gilbert Café serves diners in the area. Remnants of old homesteads provide a hint of its past.