Nestled in the backwoods of Johnson county, off scenic Highways 103 and 215, the small community of Oark is home to a very unique business.
The Oark General Store opened for business in 1890 in order to supply the small community with groceries and necessary supplies. It has been in business ever since and proudly claims the title of the oldest, continually operated store in the state of Arkansas.
Listed in the Arkansas Register of Historic Places, the unassuming Oark Store appears to blend into the beautiful landscape of the Ozark National Forest. If you are traveling to this destination on Highway 215 from the Pig Trail (Highway 23), the Mulberry River rides along with you.
Over the past 127 years, the faces of patrons have changed from mainly locals to outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. With the Mulberry River close by, along with campgrounds, hiking trails and off-road trails, the store has seen a variety of people pass through its doors. Given the winding roads it takes to reach this destination, it stands to reason it would draw the motorcycle crowd as well.
Photo credit: Lisa Becker
When visitors step inside the store, they are immediately immersed in history.
Old pictures of the area line the wall depicting ways of life before pavement. If floors could talk, these original wood planks could take us back to a time when the general store was a hub of activity for the isolated people of the area. Now, over a century later, this unique sense of history seems to make people stop, relax and take time to visit.
And, of course, eat.
In the 1900s, the store noticed that more tourists were discovering the area and, in response, began serving more food than basic supplies. Today, the menu consists of breakfast along with a variety of burgers, sandwiches and salads. Homemade pies are made daily and the pie case is filled early in case you desire pie for breakfast. I can tell you from experience, no one here will judge you if you decide to eat a slice of chocolate pie instead of bacon and eggs.
We’ve learned from an earlier experience, though, to order your pie when you first arrive or you many face disappointment by the time you finish your meal. You don’t have to eat your dessert first, but I’m telling you to stake your claim early. They don’t like to see disappointed customers standing at the pie case.
The buttermilk pie is our favorite as well as pecan and coconut cream. Come to think of it, apple and cherry pie pairs well with any burger or sandwich you order. (I should also mention that a whole pie will fit in the top saddlebag of a motorcycle and they will be happy to box one up for you.)
p.s. don’t forget the forks.
After you finish your meal, and if you are feeling a little adventurous, jump in (or on) your mode of transportation and follow the pavement past the store about 3 miles. When you begin to see the river on the right, slow down and try to spot the swinging bridge that spans the Mulberry river.
The original bridge, thought to be built between 1930-1940, provided a way for locals to cross the river and catch a ride to the store. Although the original bridge has long since washed away, along with many thereafter, a new one has been rebuilt for those still needing assistance crossing the river.
Can you spot the truck?
While you’re here, don’t forget to sit a spell on the Ponder’n bench and reflect on your one of a kind Oark experience.
So, if cabin fever is getting the best of you, taking a little road trip to the Oark General Store might be just what you need. Have a great meal and spend some time exploring the oldest store in the state, the unique surroundings, and the beauty of our natural state.
p.s. don’t forget the pie!