Old-time North­west Arkansas re­sorts re­mem­bered

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - COMMUNITY - JERRY NI­CHOLS Colum­nist Edi­tor’s note: Jerry Ni­chols, a na­tive of Pea Ridge and can be con­tacted by email at joe369@cen­tu­ry­tel.net, or call 621-1621.

To­day we nat­u­rally think of our north­west Arkansas area as a tourist at­trac­tion, a good place for peo­ple from all over to come for va­ca­tions. Es­pe­cially since the form­ing of the great Beaver Lake, our area has been pro­moted as a fine place for water-based re­cre­ation, fish­ing, boat­ing, sight-see­ing and so on. It may not be quite so well known that even in the “old” days, this area at­tracted many sum­mer vis­i­tors, va­ca­tion­ers, and peo­ple who kept sum­mer homes.

One of the most prom­i­nent of our re­sort ar­eas in the years be­fore the Great De­pres­sion was what we now call Old Bella Vista.

My mother was a na­tive of the Ben­tonville area, born in 1916. She re­mem­bered vis­it­ing Bella Vista area as a girl, usu­ally in the com­pany of her grand­mother. Mrs. Du­n­away was an en­ter­pris­ing per­son who car­ried the U.S. mail from Ben­tonville to out­ly­ing small com­mu­ni­ties such as old Rago. She also had an “egg route” on which my mother would ride with her as she trav­eled about by horse and buggy sell­ing eggs to her ac­quain­tances and friends. My mom used to tell sto­ries of their rid­ing through the old 1920s Bella Vista, and see­ing the “fine” peo­ple from New York and other big cities who va­ca­tioned there in sum­mer cab­ins in the hills. Many of the vis­i­tors were quite wealthy, as seen in their long, grand Packard au­to­mo­biles and other distin­guished lux­ury cars.

The most vis­i­ble part of old Bella Vista lay along U.S. Hwy. 71 North, be­gin­ning where to­day’s Ben­ton County 40 (McNelly Road) in­ter­sects with U.S. Hwy. 71 north of Ben­tonville. Some may know that our Lit­tle Sugar Creek, which runs by our golf course in south Pea Ridge, con­tin­ues its west­ward flow un­til feeder streams such as Spanker Creek and Ford Creek empty into it near U.S. 71.

We cur­rently have some­what of a con­tro­versy go­ing on about Old Bella Vista’s lake, as to whether the dam which cre­ated the lake should be re­built, or if Lit­tle Sugar Creek should be re­turned to a nat­u­ral state in old Bella Vista. I won’t try to take a po­si­tion on that ques­tion, but with or with­out the lake, Bella Vista was a ma­jor at­trac­tion for vis­i­tors from far places in days gone by. One of the ma­jor at­trac­tions in Bella Vista, well be­fore Cooper En­ter­prises be­gan de­vel­op­ing the Bella Vista which we know to­day, was the Won­der­land Cave sadly now closed. The cave was an at­trac­tion even in the early decades of my life, the 1940s and 1950s. Also, the Sun­set Ho­tel, lo­cated on top of the hill above old Bella Vista was one of the finer ho­tels in our area in its hey­day. The Great De­pres­sion pretty much brought about the demise of the early Bella Vista re­sort, but even to­day, as you drive U.S. 71 north to­ward Mis­souri, you can see some of the old sum­mer cab­ins set into the hill­side on the west side of the road.

An­other of our prom­i­nent re­sort ar­eas in ear­lier years was Eureka Springs. Eureka is still a tourist town to­day, of course, but with some­what dif­fer­ent at­trac­tions as com­pared to the years ago. In ear­lier days, the main at­trac­tions were the springs them­selves, and the health ben­e­fits be­lieved to de­rive from the won­der­ful spring water. There was a time when pub­lic in­ter­est in seek­ing health re­newal through drink­ing pure spring water was very strong. Like Hot Springs, in mid-Arkansas, Eureka Springs at­tracted vis­i­tors from all around the coun­try. Al­though those days were be­fore the real ad­vance of the au­to­mo­bile, ready ac­cess by train was a real as­set to Eureka Springs in bring­ing in the tourists.

The Mis­souri and North Arkansas Rail­road in those days made its way across cen­tral and north­west Arkansas, run­ning from the Mis­sis­sippi River town of He­lena, and across the state through towns such as Searcy, St. Joe, Har­ri­son, Green For­est, Eureka Springs and Beaver, fi­nally in­ter­sect­ing with the Frisco Rail­road at Selig­man, Mo. This made trav­el­ing to Eureka Springs rel­a­tively easy from al­most any­where in the coun­try, at least if the M&NA was not dis­abled by a de­rail­ment or a bridge washout. M&NA stood for the Mis­souri and North Arkansas, but many peo­ple called it “the May Never Ar­rive.” Of course, many peo­ple vis­ited Eureka Springs by car. My mother told many sto­ries of driv­ing to Eureka Springs in the fam­ily’s Model T Ford. My Grandpa Cle­ment was never a very good driver, and of­ten killed the T’s en­gine when pulling hills on the way. My Mom said there were many times when they had to jump out, scotch the wheels, and then push the Model T to get go­ing af­ter Grandpa cranked ‘er up again.

Still closer to Pea Ridge was the Park Springs Ho­tel in Ben­tonville, a beau­ti­ful ho­tel about seven or eight blocks north of West Cen­tral Av­enue. Park Springs also ad­ver­tised the health ben­e­fits of its spring water, its baths, and its beau­ti­ful, rest­ful gar­dens.. For some years, shortly be­fore 1920, a spe­cial rail­road unit, known as the In­terur­ban, pro­vided pas­sen­ger ser­vice from Rogers to Park Springs in Ben­tonville. The In­terur­ban rail car picked up pas­sen­gers at the Rogers De­pot on the Frisco line, and fol­lowed the Frisco’s spur line into Ben­tonville, mak­ing a turn north­ward on rails down the cen­ter of South­west A Street, and con­tin­ued on North­west A to the Ho­tel in the north part of town. One can still iden­tify the lo­ca­tion of the old Park Springs Ho­tel site, but the area to­day is mostly oc­cu­pied by new houses.

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