Early in our marriage, my husband was employed with Reynolds Metals Company in Bauxite. Ultimately, we felt that his position with the company necessitated a move. With an infant, a dog, two cars and very little furniture, we bought our first home and began our assimilation into the Heart of Saline County, Benton. We liked the small-town atmosphere of Benton which at that time was the largest of the three B’s: Benton, Bauxite and Bryant.
Benton, established in 1837, is the county seat of Saline County and the geographic center of the State of Arkansas. In days past it was the “Aluminum Capital of the World” — a nickname which could be taken literally. At one time, 97% of the country’s production of bauxite came from Arkansas. Alcoa Aluminum and Reynolds Aluminum had their major operating plants in Bauxite, but most of the employees lived in Benton. Reynolds is gone and Alcoa became Almatis. Times have changed, but progress is on the horizon.
- Today, part of the land where the mines operated is the home to the new Saline County Airport.
- The former airport property will soon be the location of our to-be-built Boys and Girls Club which has far exceeded its capacity at the current location.
- The new Benton Events Center is a 29,000 square foot multipurpose facility designed to host a wide range of events including trade shows, weddings, proms, conferences and other events. A new hotel is being built next to it to accommodate overnight meeting guests.
- The Saline River, one of Arkansas’ largest and one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state, merges its four forks just north of Benton and flows slowly through the edge of town. It is a major source of recreation in the area for canoeing, fishing, swimming, wildlife sighting and camping. It is relatively undeveloped which makes it a haven for nature lovers. It also serves as a major water source for the City of Benton.
Whether you are new to the area or have been around here for a long time, there are definitely some things you will want to know and see. First, however, you need to understand that when I-30 bisected the city, it made for some confusion in the street department. I think, as well, that whoever first developed the streets had a real sense of humor in naming them. We have a North East Street and a West South Street, for example. I’m not sure how that could have happened, but people around here are very willing to set you straight if you get turned around. Concentrating on Military, Market and Main Streets will pretty much get you wherever you want to go.
- The Chamber of Commerce office greets your entry into the downtown area. The staff welcomes visitors and all citizens, new and old, to stop by for area information and assistance.
- First Security Bank and Regions are the largest banks in downtown and serve as opposite cornerstones to this part of Benton.
- The Saline County Courthouse, on the National Register of Historic Places, anchors the downtown area and is the central location for most county offices and courtrooms. The clock tower in the courthouse contains the original clock works from the original construction. If you’re lucky, and know the right person with a key, you can ask to access the clock tower and see the inner workings of the clock which strikes the time hourly each day. Don’t miss the historically significant painting of miners located on the first floor.
- A seasonal farmers market operates April through September on the sidewalks surrounding the Courthouse Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Continue your journey on Market Street through the business district and a variety of shops. Take in some of the historic district.
- The Gann Museum contains a large collection of Arkansas artifacts, Quapaw and Caddo Indian artifacts, Niloak and other pottery made in the area and other local memorabilia. The building itself is architecturally significant. Built in 1893, it is the only known building in existence that is made out of bauxite.
- The Royal Theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is home to a flourishing little theater group, The Royal Players.
- First Baptist Church and First Methodist Church host two of the oldest congregations in the state and often open their doors to various school and community functions.
- The offices of The Saline Courier – the news source for all of Benton and the country for many years. If you want to know what’s happening in Saline County, you’ll want to subscribe.
- The new home of the Benton School District Administration Building lies across the street from FUMC and is the central location for all information related to school enrollment and placement.
Making a left turn from Market Street will put you on Main Street which runs in front of the Courthouse (but most people think the actual front is the entrance on Market).
- The corner of Main and Sevier Streets is the location of a widely used Veteran’s Memorial Park. Inscribed on the brick pavers are the names of many of Saline County’s veterans.
- On the opposite corner of Main and South Streets is the Owens and Mooney Memorial Park which is a nice spot for quiet reflection.
- Continuing one block in an easterly direction lands you on East Street. Turn right and you’ll find the Benton Municipal Complex, which houses the Office of the Mayor, the Benton Police Department, the Benton Water Department, and other city offices.
- The gazebo on the Courthouse lawn is the sight of numerous events, especially weddings, election season debates and impromptu music performances.
- Journeying down Main, drive past some of the town’s long-time businesses including the only downtown pharmacy, Smith-Caldwell, with its large gift department and coffee/lunch service. You will come to the Shoppach House Historic Park, dating to 1852. The Pilgrims Rest church, circa 1860s, and the DeTonti Post Office, circa 1940, are also located on the grounds. Some people are certain that the house is haunted.
Meandering past these historic buildings, Main meets Military Road.
Military Road is the business thoroughfare for most of Benton. Historically, it is significantly known as part of the Southwest Trail (DeSoto Trail, Trail of Tears) established during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. It is the crossroads where cemeteries and grocery stores meet. For the most part, if you need it, you’ll find it somewhere on Military Road.
- Ferguson Place: furniture, paint supply, dental and legal offices, restaurants, clothing stores and Wal-Mart.
- Niloak Square, named for the kaolin (spelled backwards) clay that was processed into pottery at this location: sports, gifts, groceries, manicures and jewelry stores.
- Nearby: building supply, sewing and appliance stores, the U.S. Post Office, the local bowling alley and chains such as Tuesday Morning and Hastings. We sometimes refer to Military as “fast food alley”, so stop here you get hungry.
- A little further on, you’ll come upon several stores such as Cherry’s Hallmark, Big Lots, J.C. Penney and our new and much larger Goodwill Store. Another half mile or so, there’s Lisa’s Bait Shop — not even close to a body of water. Need farm supplies? You’ll find those down Military toward Alcoa Road just past Wright’s Produce Stand.
Once oriented to Benton on these routes, there’s much more to explore. Neighborhoods, schools, sports centers, gyms, parks including the new splash park and skateboard park are all part of another day’s exploration. Even today, after almost 40 years here, I discover new little treasures on a regular basis. Living so close to Little Rock, I enjoy the comfort of living in a small town and the convenience of a metropolitan area only a few miles away.