Travel Arkansas: Bentonville offers great museums, restaurants and more
BY SCOTT CHERRY World Scene Writer
Sunday, March 10, 2013
3/10/13 at 5:00 AM
Read Scott Cherry's reviews of Arkansas restaurants: Petit Bistro: Four-star food served at French Mediterranean eatery on outskirts of Bentonville.
Tusk & Trotter: Creative, tasty brunch served at Bentonville brasserie.
Eleven: Restaurant inside Crystal Bridges Museum does tasty food artfully.
BENTONVILLE, Ark. - This quaint yet bustling town of 35,000 in northwest Arkansas has more going for it than just being known as "the town that Wal-Mart built."
Yes, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is headquartered here, and the world's largest retailer and the Walton Family Foundation have much to do with the city's top attractions and everything to do with its 56 percent growth over the past 12 years.
But I found three major areas on a recent jaunt to Bentonville that make it an inviting spot for a day trip or weekend stay, especially because it is only a two-hour trip from Tulsa.
1. It has three excellent museums - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Walmart Visitor Center museum and the Museum of Native American History. The 21c Museum Hotel, which just opened in mid-February, also has museum-quality artwork. Each has free admission.
2. Much like its neighbor down the road, Eureka Springs, it has a disproportionate number of terrific places to dine for a community its size.
3. Drum roll, please. Convenient, city-owned downtown parking lots and curb parking around the downtown square are free. Best as I could tell, parking is free everywhere in Bentonville.
Here are some must sees in Bentonville.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; hiking trails open sunrise to sundown all year.
The museum, opened Nov. 11, 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, daughter of the late Helen and Sam Walton. She also serves as the chair of the Crystal Bridges board of directors.
Some rumors have it that Alice Walton donated all of the art in the museum from her personal collection. Actually, she is believed to have donated some of the art, but a museum spokesman said the facility has been acquiring art from many sources since 2005.
The modern, curvy building surrounded by six hiking trails was designed by architect Moshe Safdie.
The museum's permanent collection spans five centuries of American art, ranging from the Colonial period to the current day, and are arranged in a timeline in five galleries.
One of the more interesting aspects in the Colonial gallery was the comparison of very different portraits of George Washington, one by Gilbert Stuart (1797) and one by Charles Wilson Peale (1780-82).
Other big crowd-pleasers throughout the galleries were Norman Rockwell's 1943 "Rosie the Riveter" and Andy Warhol's 1985 "Dolly Parton."
"Rosie the Riveter" appeared on the cover of the May 29, 1943, Saturday Evening Post.
The 52-by-40-inch oil-on-canvas work was last sold at public auction on May 22, 2002, for $4,959,500 to the husband-wife team of Kelly and Jason Elliott. It has not been revealed how the museum acquired the piece.
On Saturday, the museum opened a traveling exhibition of Norman Rockwell works from the Norman Rockwell Museum.
The traveling exhibition features 50 original paintings and 323 Saturday Evening Post covers. It also includes materials from archives that demonstrate how Rockwell worked, proceeding from preliminary sketches, photographs, color studies and detailed drawings to the finished painting.
The museum is charging $12 (ages 18 and younger free) to view the exhibition. Timed, reserved tickets are required. For tickets, go to tulsaworld.com/crystalbridgesrockwell
Visitors will find dozens of other familiar artists in the permanent collection, including Benjamin West, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Marisol, Roy Lichtenstein, Winslow Homer and, of course, Thomas Hart Benton, a descendant of the town's founder.
Visitors can cruise through the permanent galleries in 45 minutes to an hour, but those who want to read about each piece of work and spend some time admiring the works should block out at least three to four hours.
Those who have younger children also will want to make time for a stop in the hands-on gallery where the kiddies can create their own pieces of art.
The museum has an excellent restaurant, Eleven, open for lunch (with dinner Wednesday and Friday), and six hiking trails decorated by 12 pieces of sculpture. A half-mile trail leads to the Bentonville town square.
The museum drew more than 650,000 visitors its first year, and there were hundreds of visitors, some from as far away as California, on a bitterly cold Saturday when we were there.
Walmart Visitor Center Museum
105 N. Main St.
6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
This one is easy to spot on the town square. It sits under the Walton's 5 & 10 sign and is the original location for Sam Walton's first store, the forerunner to the Wal-Mart empire.
It has a gift shop, ice cream shop and a series of galleries that take visitors through the amazing journeys of Helen and Sam Walton; their children Rob, John, Jim and Alice; and Sam's brother, James "Bud" Walton.
Many of us probably tend to forget that the Walton family had its roots in Oklahoma.
Sam Walton was born in Kingfisher in 1918 and Bud in 1921. Helen was born in Claremore in 1919.
Sam and Helen attended college in Columbia, Mo. - he at the University of Missouri and she at Christian College - but they didn't meet until Sam and Bud were working at the DuPont gunpowder plant in Pryor during World War II.
Sam and Helen purportedly met at a bowling alley in Claremore and were married Valentine's Day 1943.
Those kinds of facts can hold visitors' attentions for hours, but it was some material items that kept us in the museum longer than expected.
Photos of Sam Walton's office were taken at the time of his death in 1992. The office has been reconstructed with the original items in the museum. It was the office of a working man and rugged outdoorsman more than it was the man named the richest in American by Forbes magazine in 1985.
It also has Sam's 1979 Ford F-150 pickup truck - with dents, rust, missing trim, old hunting dog kennels and teethmarks on the steering wheel from his favorite dog Ol' Roy - that he drove on hunting trips until his death.
The first greeters appeared in a Midwest City store in 1983.
The first one-hour photo lab was in a Tulsa store in 1983.
By 1997, Wal-Mart was the largest private employer in the U.S. with 720,000 employees, plus 105,000 internationally.
By 1999, it was the largest private employer in the world with 1,140,000.
More Bentonville spots to check out
Other sites recommended by bentonville.org and visitbentonville.com
The Museum of Native American History
202 SW O St.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
The Museum of Native American History invites you to "Walk Through America's Past," where it gives visitors a glimpse into what life was like for America's first inhabitants. The museum is divided into five time periods, as seen through American Indian artifacts. Some displays feature relics that date from more than 14,000 years old to historic times.
Compton Gardens and Conference Center
312 N. Main St.
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday
Named after Dr. Neil Compton, a noted Bentonville physician, writer, photographer, founder of the Ozark Society and "savior of the Buffalo River."
The conference center is available for rental for all types of private functions. The 6.5-acre gardens are available for photo shoots.
Peel Mansion & Heritage Gardens
400 S. Walton Blvd.
Tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
The 1875 mansion built by Col. Samuel West Peel is furnished with authentic antiques and artifacts.
We stayed in Simmons Suites, a newer hotel outfitted with indoor pool, lounge, complimentary breakfast and computer facilities.
Many similar hotels are in the Bentonville area, catering to visiting businessmen. More than 570,000 people arrived at the nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport last year.
Bentonville has many good places to eat. Here are some recommended ones based on our visit and from bentonville.org and visitbentonville.com.
Fred's Hickory Inn, 1502 N. Walton Blvd., 479-273-3303 - One of the oldest restaurants in Bentonville specializes in smoked meats, ribs, pastas and hand-cut steaks.
Flying Fish, 109 NW Second St., 479-657-6300 - Catfish, shrimp, oysters, crab, gumbo, po' boys and grilled fish served in a festive setting.
Eleven, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, 479-418-5700 - Modern American comfort cuisine from the South and Midwest with modern twists.
Petit Bistro, 2702 N. Walton Blvd., 479-464-9278 - Located in rustic stone farmhouse, it offers French Mediterranean cuisine and a great patio.
Press Room, 121 W. Central, 479-657-2906 - Coffee shop by day, wine shop by night.
Station Cafe, 111 N. Main St., 479-273-0553 - Large and varied home-style menu with Americana memorabilia covering the walls.
Table Mesa Bistro, 108 E. Central Ave., 479-715-6706 - Latin fusion offering seasonal ingredients with broad appeal. World Scene Writer James Watts recommends the Korean BBQ tacos.
Tavola Trattoria, 108 SE A St., 479-715-4738 - Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, offered family-style or individual dishes.
The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel, 200 NE A St., 479-286-6575 - Described as "country cooking all grown up," featuring High South cuisine.
TH Benton's Coffee/Deli, 102 E. Central Ave., 479-657-2100 - Locally roasted coffee and baked goods. It's named after artist Thomas Hart Benton, great-grand-newphew of Thomas Hart Benton, for whom Bentonville is named.
Tusk and Trotter, 110 SE A St., 479-268-4494 - A chef-owned American brasserie with a sophisticated menu and Sunday brunch.
Original Print Headline: Bentonville must-see destinations
Scott Cherry 918-581-8463
A bronze sculpture by Nancy Schön sits at the downtown Bentonville entrance to the Art Trail. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas/Courtesy
The Colonial to early-19th-century art gallery at Crystal Bridges TIMOTHY HURSLEY/Crystal BridgesMuseum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
“Yield,” a stainless steel sculpture by Roxy Paine, stands at the entrance to CrystalBridges Museum. TIMOTHY HURSLEY/Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
The Walmart Visitor Center on the downtown square in Bentonville was theoriginal location for Sam Walton’s first store. Courtesy