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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Arkansas for history and art lovers

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A few years ago, I posted a report on a similar trip to Missouri during which DH and I visited historical sites and art museums. Last week we spent five days in Arkansas, visiting both Little Rock and Crystal Bridges Museum, built by a Walton (not John-Boy, a Walmart Walton) in Bentonville.

Arkansas had fewer cultural sights than Missouri (I think a great attraction is the outdoors which are lovely), but we did enjoy ourselves on a fairly relaxed trip.

Arrived in Little Rock and checked into the Peabody Hotel which is in the middle of downtown. Came in late in the afternoon so hung around the lobby to see the 70 year old "duck parade" at 5 p.m. Five ducks leave the fountain in the middle of the lobby and to great pomp and circumstance descend and saunter around a red carpet. Lots of kids around and we enjoyed the atmosphere. We then walked down to the waterfront area, which I had imagined would be similar to San Antonio's River Walk. Have to dial that back. Probably Little Rock hasn't done that well economically the last few years and most of the businesses were small restaurants. Because we don't have much to say about the restaurants, I'll mention upfront the Flying Fish in downtown where you order from the counter and everything is fresh and the atmosphere is 1940's small town USA. Good grilled fish, although DH had a breaded fried fish basket that should have given him a coronary on the spot.
Near Bentonville we stayed a night at the Inn at the Mill which I assume had been rehabbed from a plain motel, but they've done a nice job with wine and appetizers from 5 to 6, warm cookies, and a cozy continental breakfast, very pleasant receptionist. The room itself was good and bed and bathroom excellent. Attached to the inn is "the only 5 star restaurant" in the area. Reasonably priced. Very good but maybe not Paris 5 star. It was the best meal we had on the trip, except for a Cracker Barrel breakfast, but I don't think that really counts.


We spent a few hours at the Clinton Library. Thought the architecture was not impressive given the site they had to work with, but they did a great job with the exhibits. Spent three hours. We saw many visitors standing in front of one TV screen or the other, showing various clips from his Presidency, mesmerized, rapt, seduced by a man who grew up an hour away. What I kept thinking was how amazing the number of Presidents produced in small town America. Quite a leap.

Next door was headquarters of Heifer International, which gives pregnant farm animals to impoverished people throughout the world, in an effort to establish a sustainable economy. Great tour and eco-friendly building. Came away thinking it was a worthwhile cause, mentioned it to several people at home and surprised to hear how many people had supported the organization for years.

Visited the Arkansas History Museum which has a small exhibit area (mostly devoted to the movie Gone with the Wind, but spent 30 minutes watching the screen tests of the actresses who wanted to be Scarlet. Nobody was half as good as Vivian Leigh, IMHO. ) Visited the three homes on the site , about 150 years old, give or take. Enjoyed them and the stories attached to them, but we've never seen an old house we didn't like.

We split up that afternoon -- me to Art Museum and husband to Military Museum, about a block apart. Art Museum was small but had some good pieces. Many of the galleries were closed but building itself has loads of potential. Probably 45 minutes. Walked over to military museum and DH very enthusiastic -- seems that Teddy Roosevelt's Spanish American War experience was heavily represented. Arkansas was only southern state Teddy ever campaigned in during the 1900 Presidential run (lost the state, won the country.) McArthur was born in Arkansas and his career was also covered. I never actually entered the building so can't recommend from experience.


Then we took the 3 1/2 hour ride to Bentonville. The Arkansas roads are WONDERFUL. I could only imagine driving DC to NY and how horrible the same number of miles would have been. We stopped first at the 1875 house of the Peel family. We had a great tour with the docent Carol for a full hour. The Waltons have spent a fortune making the home whole and we got immersed in the story of the couple and their seven children and etc, etc.

THEN we went to the magnificent Crystal Bridges which I think opened a couple of years ago. We spent three hours moving from gallery to gallery, from Peale to Lichtenstein. We were both astounded that there was someone able in the 21st century to build such a collection from scratch, to put the collection in a building that's a work of art itself. There are four full-time curators and their job is to buy. The placement in Northwest Arkansas reminded me of the Guggenheim in industrial, poor Bilbao, efforts that I hope pays off for both areas. I assume the theory is, if you build it, they will come. For those going, we drove from Little Rock on a Wednesday morning, arriving about noon, Peel Mansion tour, and then the art museum was open until 8 p.m., which allowed us to see the entire place in one visit.


On our return to Little Rock before going home, we did a tour of the Old State House. The docent was very good, we spent about two hours there, and the history stretched from the Civil Wa,r during which nothing of great consequence happened to the building, to present day Arkansas politics.

The present Capitol is a replica of the national Capitol but we only drove past it. Tried to find Little Rock's high school but made so many wrong turns that we finally gave up. Hope this helps those planning to visit.

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