Hometown, Arkansas: Northeast


Know what you want? What you need? Well, Batesville’s got it.

The London Bach Choir’s just finished telling me I can’t always get what I want as I finally, thank goodness, get to some hills just outside Batesville. U.S. 167 North had been mind-numbingly flat for so long, the Stones were the only source of entertainment for this Boston Mountains-bred girl. I don’t know if rolling terrain is what I wanted or what I needed, but either way, I got it.

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Where the livin’ is easy

I may have made a terrible mistake. I have come to the small town of Hardy—population 772—on a Sunday. In the rain. With my city-born and -bred 14-year-old. “I just want something to happen today,” Avery said on the 2 1/2-hour drive here from central Arkansas, and I don’t think buckets of water falling from the sky and an almost completely shuttered town qualify as “happening.”

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Heber Springs

You’ve probably swung through hilly Heber Springs on your way to or from Greers Ferry Lake—here’s why you should plan to stick around next time

I arrive in Heber Springs about 20 minutes earlier than the time I had arranged to meet my guide for the day. As I look for a spot to park along Main Street (parallel parking never was my friend, so I aim for a spot I can pull into without having to negotiate the seven easy steps outlined by the DMV), I see a sign on the corner at Second Street: “BOOK SALE.” An avid bibliophile, I know that regardless of what is on my guide’s agenda, I must—under any circumstances—make it to that book sale before I leave Heber for the day.

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It’s a little off the beaten path—and a whole lot unexpected—but this northeast Arkansas town is pretty darn easy to get to know

What is this sorcery? Could I have been wrong? Maybe that’s Memphis, I wonder, desperately clinging to my previous assumptions (unaware that the Tennessee city is more than an hour away). As I drive closer, the skyline sharpens into towers of a Riceland industrial complex. I chuckle to myself, knowing my prejudices are safe to judge another day. Or are they?

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Mountain View

How the Ozark mountain town became the capital of the music its townsfolk seek to preserve

It’s rainy and gray the day I head to the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” a dense fog cresting the hills and fizzling out in the hollows as I twist my way north along Arkansas 5. The cynic in me smirks; if ever there were a day to test the mettle of the town’s superlative moniker, it’s today: cold, damp and a full six weeks before the town’s 53-year-old folk festival ushers in a new season of plein air pickin’ and grinnin’, the mountain town’s claim to (supposedly worldwide) fame.

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Finding old renewed in Jackson County

But you just can’t live in the past without missing out on the present. So today, we are taking a road trip, my oldest and my youngest and me. We will not be reminiscing about the old but looking forward to the new. The New … port—population 7,879 and the seat of Jackson County. I have not thoroughly researched the town, have not worked out what to expect in advance, but instead am letting the day take us where it will, so all three of us can enjoy this town as an experience we’re living together for the first time.

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Prospecting for adventure in Greene County

My two best friends and I are headed almost as northeast as you can get without leaving the state of Arkansas—to Paragould, population 28,488. Before the three of us even get to the city limits, we see three signs that make us think the town’s going to be a blast: The Party Store Liquor Shop (exciting to this dry-county resident, at least), Cinderella’s Prom and Pageant (we better wrap things up before midnight) and Goobertown (what can I say? The name just makes me laugh).

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Where the sun also rises

I think about how Piggott was settled 125 years ago by “hardy settlers [who] battled Native Americans,” where logging became the base of economics and a sawmill attracted folks to the area. I remember that the town was named after Dr. James Piggott, who relocated here from his home in Dow, Illinois. And I recall that the Pfeiffers, a prominent local family that none other than Ernest Hemingway himself married into, also came down from Illinois.

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Traveling through time in Northeast Arkansas

The distance from my home in Conway to the Eddie Mae Herron Center in Pocahontas is 145.3 miles, a drive of approximately two hours and 24 minutes. It’s not the farthest I’ve traveled to get somewhere in Arkansas, for sure, but somehow it feels like the most important trip I’ve made so far. Not only is my destination a museum, a community center, and an education center, but also a culture and heritage center that celebrates almost two centuries of African-American history in Randolph County. Today, I’m looking forward to seeing a history that, for many, has been unseen. 

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Slowing things down in White County

Searcy. Home of Harding University. Seat of White County, and its largest city at 24,318 souls. Home of Gov. Mike Beebe. Holder of two Arkansas superlatives: the oldest known church building still standing (Smyrna Methodist) and the oldest Arkansas courthouse still being used for its original purpose.

These facts? They don’t exactly portend a people inclined to rest.

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Keeping track of Northeast Arkansas

The post on Half Fanatics, a Facebook group of runners who are fanatical about half marathons, reads: I have discovered race nirvana: Imagine plenty of parking, a warm building and real bathrooms at the start. Aid every FREAKING mile—not just water—port-o-potties, Gatorade, fruit, pickle juice and excited wonderful people cheering you on! ROTC kids cheering the last whole mile, helping to run you in and then … Showers at the finish. BBQ. This small slice of race heaven: Midsouth Marathon in Wynne, Arkansas. I have run in 27 states this year and by and away this is my favorite.

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