Arkansas, with its eastern border on the Mississippi River and the rest of the state in the Midwest, sits in the heart of a mix of cultures and histories. These elements make for a great experience, especially for the couple, family, or solo traveler looking for something fresh and unexpected for the next weekend away. These towns sit beyond the larger zip codes in Arkansas' boundaries, like Little Rock or Fayetteville, but that may just be the reason for their appeal. The mix of towns includes Western history, the cultural pasts of spa and resort towns, its natural wonders, and the stories of frontier success, as expressed by vibrant examples of period architecture. Whatever a traveler's tastes, they are likely to be satisfied and surprised by what locals and visitors have long called the Natural State.
Camden, with 10,300 inhabitants, is in south-central Arkansas. The picturesque town lies on the Ouachita River. The settlement here owes its existence to the burgeoning 19th-century river trade, which expanded from New Orleans and other cities established earlier. A sign of the town's bygone eras, the old Camden Post Office, constructed in 1895, now houses a popular restaurant.
The Washington Street Historic District, once a sought-after address for successful Camdenites, boasts Greek Revival-style homes and examples from the Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and other architectural styles. Most of Camden's homes were built by the area's cotton merchants and later, for successful members of the oil industry. For true-blue history buffs, Camden's McCollum-Chidester House, first built in 1847, now houses the Ouachita County Historical Society.
Batesville, Arkansas, has a population of 11,200. The town plays a key part in Arkansas as a transportation hub, itself linked to its historic role in commercial traffic on the White River. Batesville's tourist draws include the Garrott House, an 1840s stately home that is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Cook-Morrow House, built in the early 20th century, is another historic home included on the national register. In a sign of Batesville's continuing contributions to local culture, the town's Ozark Foothills Film Festival began in 2002 and seeks to celebrate and encourage filmmaking from the area. Finally, the Old Independence Regional Museum offers education and the history of the surrounding Independence County.
The northwest town of Ozark, with just 3,600 residents, derives its name from the term "Aux Arcs," a name that the region's French traders and fur trappers gave the terrain of rolling hills and valleys. The English-language adaptation of the same term — Ozarks — later provided a fresh new moniker to the mountainous zone that would cover parts of four states to the west of the Mississippi River. The town played a key part in the Trail of Tears, the path of forced resettlement for Native Americans in the late 19th century. The former Franklin County Jail features a stone facade and has often been compared to a medieval castle, making it a local attraction that some travel a long way to see.
Ozark's historic town square combines antique shops, a courthouse, and crepe myrtle trees for a quaint image from the town's much older days. A restored 1911 train depot now serves as Ozark’s history museum.
The beautiful town of Paragould, population 30,200, sits in the corner of northeast Arkansas, not far from the neighboring states of Missouri and Tennessee. Paragould's downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, not least for longtime cultural mainstays like the Collins Theatre, an integral part of Paragould's local identity for almost a century.
The Greene County Courthouse, first constructed in 1888, offers a textbook example of the Beaux-Arts architectural style popular in the United States and Europe. The building today serves as the offices for the Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce. Not far away stands the Beisel-Mitchell House, a fine example of 1930s Spanish Revival and another dynamic element of Paragould's diverse building styles, drawing visitors for generations.
Calling itself "a small town with big ideas," the quaint town of Greenwood, with 9,600 inhabitants, provides the traveler with a quieter alternative to Fort Smith, about 20 miles north. The historic downtown is home to a commemoration of veterans of the US armed forces, a poignant reflection of local values and sacrifice in the name of national service. Greenwood's historical society keeps local and regional history alive and has moved to preserve the town's historic schoolhouse.
The growing town boasts a performing arts center and the Vache Grasse ("Fat Cow") Golf Course, a local favorite. The Sebastian County Jail, built in 1892, still stands in downtown Greenwood, making it one of the town's oldest buildings and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bentonville ranks among Arkansas' best-loved towns. The famous retail giant Walmart calls Bentonville home, as do about 50,000 residents. Tucked into the northwest corner of the state, near neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri, there are plenty of big businesses with towns and states beyond its front door. For culture and a bite to eat, Bentonville boasts diverse points of interest, such as the 8th Street Market, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Scott Family Amazeum, one of the best children's museums in the US.
For those who prefer the outdoors, the town offers nearly two dozen parks and green spaces ideal for running, walking, hiking, and biking. Given the Wal-Mart effect and other economic drivers, Bentonville is helping make northwest Arkansas one of the fastest-growing regions in the US.
Eureka Springs, with just 2,200 inhabitants, lies in northwestern Arkansas. Despite its size, the town has stood proudly on the National Register of Historic Places for 50 years. Originally a 19th-century spa resort town, given the abundance of local thermal springs, Eureka Springs' downtown retains a Victorian aspect from the well-heeled families who built homes here.
Eureka Springs invites visitors to explore its hilly, winding streets, its limestone buildings, and other attractions. Its historic hotels are especially interesting, like the Basin Park Hotel, the Crescent Hotel, and the Palace Hotel and Bath House. These days, Eureka Springs adds to its heritage as a resort town with a lively cultural calendar, running the gamut from theater productions to seasonal events for the winter and summer holiday travel seasons.
With so much to give to the traveler, Arkansas has long been a favorite among Midwestern and other visitors. These towns, many of them a long way from large cities like the state capitol, Little Rock, nonetheless offer a wide array of attractions to any tourist with an open mind. The architectural richness in Camden and Batesville and the natural beauty in Greenwood and Eureka Springs make Arkansas a solid choice for travel plans around an upcoming holiday weekend or any other time of year. Arkansas' reputation as the Natural State is accurate and well-deserved, as these small-town gems have shown.