Lately I have been traveling to North West Arkansas for work and I’ve had the opportunity to visit Bentonville a couple of times. I have to say that on my first trip I was truly surprised at how this quaint small town has so much to offer and how it is at the same time quiet and full of energy. Personally I love visiting small towns, I enjoy learning about their history and you can usually feel their sense of community as you walk around their small streets without having to worry about oncoming traffic.
Before I didn’t even know Bentonville existed and had not really given visiting Arkansas much thought but I have to say I have a very different perspective now and really liked Bentonville and I am looking forward to going back. There are a lot of interesting reasons to visit Bentonville and here are some of my favorite ones.
The square is truly the heart of Bentonville, here you can see people gathering in the benches to chat during lunchtime and around the square you can find the Benton County House on the east side and on the west the Walmart Visitor center and museum. Yes, Bentonville is home to the largest company in the world and that has brought a lot of life to this town which is buzzing with commercial activity.
The first Walmart store, a five and dime, was founded right here in Bentonville in 1950 and now houses a small museum. I have to admit I am not a huge fan of Walmart but stepping into Walton’s 5 & 10 is like stepping back in history. The store has the original tile floor and tin ceiling and is filled with toys and curiosities from the 50’s. There is also an interactive exhibit that tells about the history of the corporation, I browsed quickly through it and found out a lot of interesting facts about the retail giant and it’s founder. Next door the Spark Soda Cafe Soda Fountain, also with a 50’s feel, offers ice cream and other treats and it’s housed in the Terry Block Building, built in 1888, which also houses the Walmart visitor office.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
A couple of blocks north of the Bentonville town square the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art houses one of the largest collections of American art from all eras. Founded by Alice Walton in 2011 it contains many pieces from the Walton’s private collection.
As I walked towards the museum, enjoying the beautiful gardens and the amazing spring colors I was pleasantly surprised by the interesting architecture of the museum, designe by Moshe Safdie. The galleries are build over and around a series of ponds and they are truly at beautiful sight as they reflect on the water at night. I had the opportunity to attend a cocktail during the evening and the interior spaces as well as the view of the museum lighted up and reflecting on the ponds was truly breathtaking.
Inside the gallery spaces are really interesting with the curved wood ceilings and lots of natural light. The Crystal Bridges museum has some really impressive pieces including art from Charles Wilson Peale, Norman Rockwell, Jason Pollock and so many more. The museum is considered one of the best art museums in the United States and has attracted a lot of visitors from around the state and all around the country, and the best part is that this museum is that the entrance is completely free!
The beautiful gardens include extensive nature trails where you can really get a feel for the beauty of the Ozarks, as well as a sculpture garden and outdoor spaces for concerts, etc.
21C Hotel Museum
I stayed at the 21C Hotel Museum, the fourth in a chain of museum hotels founded by philanthropists and art collectors. This was my first time staying at a 21C and I have to tell you it will not be my last. I love art and certainly do not get enough of it back home in Southwest Florida, where we are known for our beaches but really lacking in the art department!
I felt like I was in heaven being able to walk around the hotel/museum’s galleries at any hour of the day and night. There where lots of interesting pieces but the hotel also has a really fun and even whimsical feel to it. The 21C’s famous penguins, which in Bentonville are green instead of red, will unexpectedly pop up everywhere. Sometimes you will find one in the elevator or maybe one will come and keep you company while you dine alone at The Hive.
The hotel’s galleries are open to the public so even if you are not staying at the 21C you can go spend an hour or so looking throughout the galleries at the pieces and installations for free.
Arkansas has a interesting and rich combination of history, natural beauty and heritage that is part Western frontier, part Ozark pioneer and part Old South and I loved getting a peek into it, and would really like to see more of this beautiful state.