As the article’s title mentions, Bentonville is a city located in the north-western part of the state of Arkansas. It attracts the attention of the visitor with its small, red-brick buildings, accessorised with black awnings. Brick is a common construction material in the area due to the existence of red clay in the county that bears the same name*. Today, this feature adds to its slick appearance, as well as the stylish shops, coffee houses, private practices, and administrative buildings. The aspect of newly refurbished structures sends back to the city’s history. Older buildings are simply missing in Bentonville because the city was nearly destroyed in a Civil War battle of 1862*, called the Battle of Pea Ridge.
The relation of Bentonville with the Civil War is complex today, as it was in the last decades of the 19th century. Like many towns located in the Southern States of the USA, or on the border line between the former confronting camps, the so-called Union one and the Confederate one, Bentonville had its own Confederate soldier statue located in a little park in the town square area. Similar to the other statues, the Confederate soldier of Bentoville was put up in 1908 by the joint effort of the city’s citizens and of the association called The United Daughters of the Confederacy*. This statue of a Confederate generic soldier at parade rest was removed in the late summer of 2020, following the all-US public outcry against public symbols meant to praise, even indirectly like the discussed case, the oppression purported against individuals of African descent or of all other non-Western European, non-white origins.
Despite the statue’s removal, the relations with the past are far more intricate. In fact, in the decade after the Civil War, Bentonville represented a site of reconciliation between the veterans of the two camps: the former Confederates welcomed the Union’s veterans in 1877, with the occasion of the first reunion of the soldiers*. Secondly, the intricacy of the Civil War loyalties was somewhat simplified in the years after the event by the US government itself, as it conditioned the reimbursement of the loss claims, submitted by the people of the area, to proving absence of any indication of support given to the Confederate camp during the Civil War*. Finally, it is relevant to add that many Bentonville pioneering enterprises were established by former Union and Confederate soldiers. Andrew Jackson Bates helped establish the first National Bank of Bentonville, whereas Raphael W. Handard of Missouri opened the first photography studio in the city*.
The town of Bentonville was established in 1830 by people coming from the states of Tennessee and Missouri. One of the establishers was senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), a Missouri senator for more than 30 years*. The town itself was located in a picturesque hilly area, a prairie, grassy region full of springs and creeks. At the end of the 19th century, the town and the nearby area was filled with apple orchards and with lumber mills. Bentonville continued to be a supplier of apples for the entire US, and even outside, until the 1930S, the time of the Great Depression. Sadly, disease and changing weather patterns put a stop on the successful trade with apples*.
Life of today’s Bentoville is concentrated in the town square. The modern but elegant buildings of reduced proportions which host Arvest Bank or the Walmart Visitor Centre have been erected on the site of the Old Opera House, an auditorium which accommodated in the 1880s travelling musicians and special events*, or of the old Post Office (functioning in the 1890s, where Walmart Visitor Centre is located today)*. The town square was the location of the Eagle Hotel (built around 1842) on a site which currently hosts an office building (the former Massey Hotel)* and of the Harrison Variety Store, a merchandise venue built in 1924* and sold in the 1950s to a new comer in town, Sam Walton, the same person who would later build the Walmart empire.
Not far from Bentonville’s town square, somewhat on a back side, the visitor comes across a mural which represents the woman flying pioneer, Louise Mc Phetridge Thaden (1905-1979) (The Bentonville Airport is named in her honour). Louise discovered her fascination for planes and for flying during her teenage years spent in her town, in Bentonville*. She is said to have won more competitions than the renown Amelia Earhart. Both Thaden and Earhart worked closely to promote aviation opportunities for women pilots.
When visiting Bentonville, it feels like a special place. It has a youngish vibe about it and it recommends itself as the ultimate venue for the art geeks, as it is the host of a top American art museum called Crystal Bridges*, for the coffee lovers, as it hosts the cutting edge design coffee labs of Onyx*. As we are advancing through the 21st century, the contest of finding new identities and way of expressions is open, and the symbol of future assumed identities will definitely be placed in the little park of the town square, where the Confederate soldier used to be until last summer.
*Monte Harris, Images of America, Bentonville, Charleston, South Carolina, 2020, p. 9.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 17.
*M.Harris, Images of America…, p. 70.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 8.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 23.
*M. Harries, Images of America…, pp. 70, 50.
*M. Harris, Images of America..., pp. 9, 10.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, pp. 68, 69.
*M. Harris, Images of America..., p. 36.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 39.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 17.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 52.
*M. Harris, Images of America…, p. 78.
*Onyx Coffee Lab: https://onyxcoffeelab.com