Barn: A Piece of Bella Vista history
Driving north on Highway 71B, it sits on the east side of the road, a memorial to a time when dairy cows strolled across Bella Vista Way, maybe followed by a boy with a fishing pole over his shoulder and a dog trotting alongside. Now the big red barn is part of golf maintenance, but there are still people around who remember what it once was a long time ago.
Bob Anderson now lives in Centerton. He lived in Bella Vista several times throughout his life and considers it home.
He came to Bella Vista the first time when he was about 12 years old. Last week, he was in town to talk to Xyta Lucas at the Bella Vista Historical Museum. He’s also working on an autobiography.
In 1957, Anderson’s father, also named Robert Anderson, received a medical discharge from the Army. They had moved around quite a bit during the Army years, Anderson said, so when his father bought a farm in Arkansas, it was the first time the family could really settle down.
There were a few suprises for the three young Anderson brothers. First, television was very limited, with only two stations coming in from Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan. Their phone was a party line, with 16 parties, and their new home had only two bedrooms.
Work started immediately to turn a detached washroom into a third bedroom for two of the boys.
They met their new neighbors, Sadie and Ray Cunningham, who were brother and sister. They lived across the creek, in a large white house with a white barn. Through the Cunninghams, the Andersons met other neighbors, including E.L. Keith who owned the Bella Vista resort.
The Dug Hill Church was the site of regular gospel sings, and Sadie Cunningham told the story of how it got its name. She told him that the road which later became 71B passed very close to the church and it was steep, making getting to the church difficult. Some members helped relocate the road by digging out a new road bed at the base of the hill.
As soon as the renovation of the washhouse was complete, the boys went to work in the old barn. It had been built, probaby around 1903, by a dairy farmer named Neuswander. There were milking stanchions along both sides, but it hadn’t been used as a dairy barn. Neuswander’s daughter kept animals in the barn but never bothered cleaning out the manure so, when the Anderson family moved in, manure was two feet high on both sides of the barn. It took a year to clean it out using rakes and a wheelbarrow, Anderson remembered. Eventually, they added work benches and electricity and turned half of the barn into a workshop.
They were not full-time farmers, but they always had a garden and some kind of “cash crop,” Anderson said. It wasn’t always the same crop. One year they grew okra, and it was so tall they had to use a 10foot step ladder to harvest it. Another year they grew green peppers. When a tomato cannery opened in Pea Ridge, they grew tomatoes. School started when the tomatoes were all picked, Anderson remembered.
When they moved in, the Cunninghams introduced the young family to a dairy farmer who delivered milk to restaurants along the highway. He agreed to deliver to the farm two or three times a week. When the farmer decided to give up his route and sell to a processing plant, he offered to sell the Andersons a milk cow that was about to give birth, and young Bob Anderson learned how to milk.
While the boys went to Bentonville schools, their father earned a degree at the University of Arkansas, and their mother returned to her own career as a teacher. When he completed his degree, Bob Anderson Sr. was hired by the Bentonville Chamber of Commerce as executive director when the chamber started to pursue economic development.
The elder Anderson worked for the chamber for about five years and, during that time, he heard about John Cooper Sr. and his Cherokee Village community. According to his son, the elder Anderson knew right away that Cooper and Bella Vista would be a match. He drove directly to Cherokee Village.
Cooper liked what he saw in Bella Vista, but he knew that he needed the resort, owned by E.L. Keith as a basis for his new retirement community. He would only make a deal if the resort could be included and the resort wasn’t actually for sale.
In his autobiography, Keith wrote, “What Mr. Cooper wanted to do was the greatest thing that was ever done for Bentonville in all the past. Mr. Cooper made the statement that he was not coming here unless he could get Bella Vista, and I knew, if I was the one kept him from coming here, my name would be “Mud” the rest of my life in Bentonville.”
All Anderson would say about Cooper buying the Keith property was, “He was treated fairly.”
Most of the farmers were happy to sell to Cooper, Anderson remembered. He remembers one holdout whose property was located in what would become Lake Windsor. The Cooper people already owned the land around him, so they drew up a map showing where they would locate an access road to one remaining property. The road would run on Cooper property, so they had the final say on where it would run. They made sure it ran towards Gravette instead of Bentonville and the lone holdout agreed to sell.
Farming in the early ’60s was a challenge, Anderson said. No one was surprised when the land changed hands so quickly.
After graduating from Bentonville High School, Anderson went to U of A as part of the ROTC program. He left for the Army immediately after graduating and served for 20 years. When he left the army in 1986, he came home to Northwest Arkansas.
The barn is all that remains of the farm where Bob Anderson grew up. It’s now part of golf maintenance.
Bob Anderson remembers milking cows in the barn that is now part of golf maintenance. His father, Bob Anderson Sr., introduced the tiny resort town of Bella Vista to John Cooper Sr.