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Historic Harrison: An Ideal Home Base for Ozark Outings

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Harrison's trolley
Harrison's trolley
    Harrison's courthouse square
Harrison's courthouse square
The Marine Corps Legacy Museum
The Marine Corps Legacy Museum
    Harrison's Courthouse Square
Harrison's Courthouse Square
Harrison's Hotel Seville
Harrison's Hotel Seville
October 8, 2002

Historic Harrison: An Ideal
Home Base for Ozark Outings

By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

HARRISON -– Knowing that character of a downtown district was a factor for Norman Crampton when he developed his list of 100 Best Small Towns in America, it's easy to understand why Harrison made the cut in his 2002 book, "The Best Small Towns in America."

A shining illustration of the appeal of Harrison's downtown is the Hotel Seville, a Spanish-like castle built in 1929 that has three stories and a wood frame with brick and terra cotta veneer. Once the heart of the city's social activity, the preserved hotel is just one reason Harrison's downtown is recognized as a national historic district by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Hanging flower baskets complement and awnings accentuate old brick storefronts that line the Harrison square, which, along with a few buildings on adjacent blocks, make up the historic district. Only one building in the district, a gas station, is less than 50 years old. Evidenced through its architecture from the early 1900s, the Great Depression and post-World War II, Harrison is the quintessential American small town.

The flavor of this city might be best experienced by taking the Main Street Harrison Historic Walking Tour, which includes downtown parks, the historic Lyric Theater, the 1909 Boone County courthouse, the 1914 Boone County Jail and the Hotel Seville.

The Lyric Theater offers live performances on a regular basis, and a thorough renovation of the historic structure is nearly complete. Built in 1929, the theater's interior is graced by stunning murals.

Downtown also boasts two museums: the Boone County Historical Museum and the Marine Corps Legacy Museum. The historical museum contains railroad artifacts, Native American exhibits, genealogy files and Civil War memorabilia. The Marine Corps Legacy museum was founded and is maintained by two retired Marines, a father and son. It contains historical exhibits on the Marine Corps, tracing its roots to 490 B.C., when troops first trained specifically as marines.

There's more than just historic interest in downtown Harrison. Shoppers can spend hours perusing an art gallery, several antique stores, vintage clothing stores, women's clothing stores, a home décor store, shoe stores and a bookstore. There's also a barbershop, and its barber pole still turns.

If visitors crave food, they can choose between four restaurants. Located in the Hotel Seville, Cantarutti's Ristorante Italiano alone is reason enough to visit Harrison. Set amidst ornate décor and elaborate stenciling, Cantarutti's features Old World Italian dishes served in hefty portions. Continental cuisine is the specialty at Bottini's Restaurant, which is open during lunch and dinner hours and serves brunch on Sundays. At Out to Lunch, patrons can choose between fresh salads, sandwiches, soups, quiches, daily specials and desserts as well as premium coffees. And the Townhouse Café serves up old-fashioned, plate lunch specials and home-style Southern fare as well as seafood on Friday and Saturday nights, which are the only evenings the restaurant is open for dinner.

Touring downtown and the rest of Harrison, which has contemporary dining and shopping districts, is easy by trolley. A single trip costs 50 cents and includes numerous stops. While children ride the trolley to the city pool, Kay Steffen, executive director of Main Street Harrison, said tourists are finding they can park their car and then use the trolley to get a more personal view of the community. "And [the tourists] then have knowledgeable people to ask about what they are seeing and what else they should see," she said, referring to locals and the trolley driver.

Green spaces, too, are part of Harrison's charm. Merely blocks from the historic area, Crooked Creek, a well-known smallmouth bass stream, forms Lake Harrison. At the lake, Minnie Harris Park features a playground, a walking trail, picnic tables, pavilions that can be reserved and a small stage for outdoor performances.

Just as historic buildings and their contents define Harrison's character, so do its special events. During mid-September balloonists from throughout the region converge over Harrison to compete for the Arkansas State Hot Air Balloon title. The annual event includes balloon competitions, rides at the city park and nightly balloon glows.

Harrison's largest festival, Harvest Homecoming, will this year take place Oct. 4-6 and features arts and crafts booths, live music and great food venues throughout the downtown district. The festival includes a Ford Mustang and open car show as well as a home and lawn show with tractor races.

Options Abound Outside Harrison

What might very well make Harrison most appealing is its location in the center of Arkansas's Ozarks.

The Ozarks consist of a heavily eroded plateau, pushed up eons ago and carved out by hundreds of streams over thousands of years. Its forested land contains many treasures, above and below ground, that make for excellent day trips from Harrison.

Less than an hour from the city is the Buffalo National River, famed for its towering limestone bluffs. Following a conservation battle of epic proportions, Congress designated the Buffalo the first national river 30 years ago. It is the backdrop for hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, caving and fishing. Elk roam the river's corridor, and it's not uncommon to spot cars stopped along the road to watch and photograph the herds grazing in open fields. The herds are often seen near the town of Ponca, and the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum & Elk Visitors Center that features interpretive exhibits and videos was recently opened on Ark. 7 at Jasper.

Other photo-worthy attractions are the area's caverns. Just eight miles south of Harrison, Mystic Caverns offers explorations of a cave once used by locals for dances and the making of moonshine. Visitors can also tour a second, pristine cave at Mystic that was discovered more recently. In close proximity are Hurricane River Cave at Pindall, Bull Shoals Cave at Bull Shoals, and Blanchard Springs Caverns near Mountain View.

Less than 60 miles from Harrison are Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork, excellent for fishing, boating and swimming. And the White River below Bull Shoals Dam and the North Fork River below Norfork Dam offer world-class trout fishing.

But outdoors attractions aren't the only options in close proximity to Harrison. Branson, Missouri, with its countless musical shows, shopping outlets and popular theme park, is 35 miles from Harrison. Eureka Springs, a Victorian village named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Dozen Most Distinctive Destinations, is 35 miles away. Less than 80 miles away is Mountain View, which is home to the Ozark Folk Center State Park, a historic downtown district that boasts shops with authentic Ozark handmade goods and impromptu folk music jams on the courthouse square. And visitors departing from Harrison for Little Rock drive only 135 miles.

Located on Ark. 65, Harrison is intersected east and west by either Ark. 62 or Ark. 412 and south by Scenic Ark. 7. Numerous hotels, bed and breakfast inns and restaurants serve the city and surrounding area.

More information about Harrison and the surrounding area, including lodging and dining options, is available by phoning the following organizations or visiting the web sites listed below.

* Harrison Chamber of Commerce: 1-800-880-6265,

* Harrison Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1-888-283-2163,

* Harrison's Downtown District, (870) 741-4889,

* Arkansas Parks and Tourism information, (and choose Harrison listed under "Cities.")


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

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