By Hannah Ash
Northwest Arkansas has been growing rapidly since the opening of Walmart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt Transport, but the Ozarks have been inhabited for over 15,000 years. This area has a rich and bountiful history, each town with its own unique stories, and for those history buffs and interested parties there are several historical museums throughout Northwest Arkansas.
Two of the most popular museums are located on Civil War battlegrounds in Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Both the Pea Ridge Civil War National Military Park and the Prairie Grove Civil War Battlefield State Park are two of the most well-preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation, and both offer driving tours through the parks. The Pea Ridge National Military Park is host to not only the refurbished Elkhorn tavern, but also the 4,300 acre battleground features a museum to house the history of the soldiers from both sides, Union and Confederate, who fought valiantly in the battle. The Prairie Grove battlefield has a museum to house the history of soldiers from both sides as well, and is proud to host a reenactment of the battle during the first weekend of December during even numbered years.
To see even more fascinating military history, visitors and locals can check out the Arkansas Air and Military Museum at Drake Air Field in Fayetteville. Drake Air Field was used as a United States aviator training post during World War II, making this historical site one well worth preserving. This immense museum houses fully functional planes, tanks, and other military vehicles all the way from World War I to the Iraqi Conflicts.
For some very niche local history, check out the Bella Vista Museum, which celebrates Bella Vista’s transition from a resort town and retirement village to a beautiful modern town full of natural wonders made for all ages to enjoy. This small but unique museum houses information about the 1917 resort and underground nightclub, and how over time the town became known for its beautiful seven lakes and seven gorgeous golf courses.
Tontitown is another small but mighty community in the area, and the town has its own niche museum as well, located in the home of original Tontitown settlers Mary and Zelinda Bastinelli. Tontitown Historical Museum shares the local history of a unique Italian immigrant community that was founded in 1895 by Father Pietro Brandini. The foundation of the Tontitown community was wine production, and is still a large part of the town today, which is why the museum features an antique grape press and wine bottling machine, as well as many other artifacts to help guests envision what life was like back in the days of yore.
Another even more niche museum is the Daisy Airgun Museum in downtown Rogers. The museum celebrates the history of one of the most popular toys of all time, featuring antique guns dating as far back as the 1600s. They also sell very limited production collector’s edition products, making this an absolute must-see for gun enthusiasts.
One of the most popular museums in the area is located in Bentonville, and although it is small by comparison, its subject is a large titan of industry. The Walmart Museum was established in 1990 to showcase the history of Walmart and the Walton family’s mission to help families save money and live better. Guests come from all around the world, especially during the Walmart Shareholders meeting, to see the original Walton’s 5&10; where Sam Walton’s dreams began.
Bentonville is also home to another exciting museum full of information and adventure, the Museum of Native American History, or the MONAH. Established in 2006, this museum honors the earliest inhabitants of the geographic area with six permanent exhibits, each showing a detailed history of a different age in the area’s history, from the Paleo era when American history began all the way to when Native Americans began to interact with European settlers.
For those wanting a detailed history of the area as a whole, there are two excellent options. The first is the Rogers Historical Museum, which tells the history of Rogers and its surrounding areas through five permanent exhibits. This museum is super unique because it is housed not just under one roof, but several spread out through downtown Rogers, one of which is an actual Frisco train car. With a fully restored Victorian home, an actual train caboose, and interactive exhibits for kids, the Rogers Historical Museum is packed with educational fun for the whole family!
Another museum encompassing regional history is the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, established in 1968. Located in downtown Springdale, the Shiloh Museum gets its name from the 1840s pioneer town that would later become chartered as Springdale. The Shiloh Museum houses five permanent exhibits and several rotating special exhibits, and on top of the 22,000 square feet of indoor museum, there are also six historic buildings outside on the grounds for guests to visit. With the interactive exhibits and costumes for kids, guests can really get the feel of what life was like in the Ozark pioneer communities of old.