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Summer is heating up, and if you are Team HOT Summer like me, it’s your time to shine. The outdoors is open and ready to explore, but finding a place to cool down is essential when the heat is on. I’d like to suggest a road trip to Gilbert, Arkansas. It’s the coolest town in Arkansas. Literally. Gilbert may be a small town, but it packs a punch when it comes to charm, history and cold temperatures.
Gilbert traces its roots back to the late 19th century when settlers began arriving in the area. The town flourished in the early 1900s, thanks to the timber industry and the construction of the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad, which was named after Charles W. Gilbert, president of the railroad.
The railroad ran from Joplin, Missouri, all the way down to Helena, Arkansas, passing through various towns and communities along the way. Gilbert, then known as George’s Fork, was one such town that benefited immensely from the arrival of the railroad. It brought new opportunities and possibilities to the residents of Gilbert. It facilitated the transportation of goods such as timber, which was abundant in the surrounding Ozark Mountains and became a major industry in the area.
Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.
Fueling economic growth and prosperity, Gilbert became a bustling hub of activity. The population grew, new businesses and services sprang up to cater to the growing community’s needs, and the railroad station became a focal point of the town. The town once had four stores, two hotels, several sawmills and three doctors. Unfortunately, changing economic conditions and the rise of the automobile and highway systems led to the decline of rail travel. The tracks that once brought life and vibrancy to Gilbert fell silent, leaving behind a legacy and a reminder of the town’s storied past. The old railroad bed, now converted into a scenic trail, offers visitors a chance to walk in the footsteps of history. The trail meanders through picturesque landscapes, providing glimpses of the town’s railroad heritage.
For history buffs, Gilbert has plenty to offer. Take a leisurely stroll through the town and admire the historic buildings that have stood the test of time. The Gilbert General Store, established in 1901 by “Uncle” Billy Mays, is a must-visit. Step inside, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time with its vintage decor and friendly shopkeepers. The store offers a variety of goods, including homemade jams, crafts and nostalgic candies to transport you to your childhood.
The Gilbert General Store is also the hub for one of the most popular activities in Gilbert: floating down the Buffalo National River. As the first national river in the United States, the Buffalo offers pristine waters and breathtaking scenery. Visit the General Store to grab a canoe, kayak, or inner tube. Then embark on a leisurely float along the river, surrounded by towering bluffs and lush forests. It’s the perfect way to unwind and connect with nature.
If you’re not already convinced that Gilbert is a pretty cool town, its unique geographical location and elevation make it the literal coldest town in Arkansas. Temperatures recorded at Gilbert’s official weather reporting station located at the Gilbert General Store are regularly the lowest reported temperatures in the state, and the town proudly boasts that they are the coolest town in Arkansas. During the winter of 1939-40, a low temperature of minus 24 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded. In April 1969, morning lows were below freezing, and the temperature had warmed to 90 degrees by mid-afternoon.
So this summer, when it’s hotter than hot outside, you may find some relief in Gilbert. Before heading into town, grab a bite to eat at Ferguson’s. Or pack a picnic with sandwiches from Coursey’s Smoked Meats. Stop by the general store and rent a canoe or kayak or head down to the gravel bar on the banks of the Buffalo to cool your toes and perhaps spot a fossil or two. There is camping and plenty of stargazing thanks to the city being designated as a ‘dark sky’ community. Gilbert is the perfect place to slow down, step back in time and enjoy the quiet.
Cover photo provided by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
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