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I grew up on a farm in Mississippi County, in the Northeast corner of Arkansas just a few miles from the mighty “Mississip”. When Momma gives directions to someone, she refers to our area as “the ugly part of the state.” She says it in jest (I think), but there’s a thread of truth because our section of the state is often overlooked in favor of the gorgeous mountains, clear lakes and river valleys comprising a large portion of The Natural State.
But before you completely disregard my corner of the Arkansas Delta, come away with me on a tour of Northeast Arkansas. Let me change your mind. There are plenty of unique treasures tucked away in the place I call home. Watch the sun sink below the next rice field. I swear you can see the curvature of the earth.
Let’s start in Clay County where Ernest Hemingway was known to spend time with his second wife, Pauline and even penned a portion of A Farewell to Arms. In Piggott, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House and Museum containing 75 percent original furnishings and the Matilda and Karl Pfeiffer Museum with an extensive gem and mineral collection are not to be missed. For overnight accommodations, my choice is the Inn in Piggott, a charming bed-and-breakfast located in the historic Bank of Piggott building just off the square. The owners provide an amazing breakfast as well as earplugs for sleeping. Personally, I love the sound of the (very) nearby train at night.
The Greyhound Bus Depot in Blytheville is one of the sole surviving art deco bus stations remaining in the United States. Added to the historic register in 1987, the station now serves as a transportation museum and offices for Main Street Blytheville.
The Mississippi County Historical Center and Museum in Osceola provides a thorough look at life on the Mississippi River with artifacts from area residents. The museum is housed in the old Patterson Dry Good store. Very little has changed from the original building built in the early 1900s. That in itself is a treat. Around the corner from the square, walk through historic Violet Cemetery, the final resting place of early settlers and founding fathers of Osceola. The earliest grave marker of 1831 pre-dates Arkansas statehood.
Traveling through Northeast Arkansas without taking a gander at Ole Man River would just be wrong. Stop at the Osceola Riverport where more than 200,000 tons of agricultural product flow through each year.
Lepanto, Arkansas is home to the movie set farmhouse used in John Grisham’s The Painted House. The home is available for tours. There’s a one-holer out back for extra effect.
Johnny Cash Boyhood Home and Dyess Colony Museum in Mississippi County provides a history lesson on the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program established Dyess as an agricultural resettlement community providing aid to over 500 impoverished Arkansas farm families including Johnny Cash’s family. Limited group tours are available now. Grand opening is scheduled for Aug. 16, 2014.
Hampson Archeological Museum in Wilson provides an incredible exhibit of nationally renowned artifacts from the 15-acre Nodena site of Late Mississippian Period Native Americans dated A.D. 1400 – 1650. Although the museum is small (there are plans to rebuild on the town square), the history is huge and humbling.
For a lesson in sharecropping, tenant farming, and the agricultural labor movement in the Delta, visit the Southern Tenant Museum in Tyronza. The museum is located in the historic Mitchell-East Building. Exhibits include oral histories and a 1930s newsreel footage. There is even cotton growing along the sidewalk. A nice touch.
Whitton Farms on the outskirts of Tyronza, offers agri-tours on scheduled days. This small, family-owned, organic farm is what growing and eating local is all about.
Just a few miles from Tyronza, visit the recently restored dog-trot house in Twist—a great example of early American architecture back before dogs took over our beds.
In Blytheville, Sisters’ at the Crossing on Main Street offers antiques and unique gifts with lunch served several days a week courtesy of Southern Grace Tea Room. Support your independent bookstore at That Bookstore in Blytheville where literary culture is alive and well. After all that book buying, your belly will beg for sustenance. For a barbecue tradition, head straight to The Dixie Pig. As the Arkansas Times says, the chopped pork sandwich is near perfection. After almost a hundred years, I guess so.
Another Delta barbecue choice is The Hog Pen just outside Osceola. Try the pulled pork. Delicious! Shopping in Osceola means Newcomb’s on Hale. Originally a drugstore, this is the go-to gift shop in town and the place all Mississippi County brides established wedding registers for decades. Yes, even me.
If antiquing is your thing, a visit to Wildwood Antiques in Etowah won’t disappoint. Located on the 100-year-old Wildy home place, be prepared to lose an entire afternoon.
Ahhhhh the Wilson Cafe in Wilson, Arkansas… Chef Joe from Memphis brings five-star flavor to Mississippi County. I adore everything about this place. Servings are generous. The food is beyond delicious. Atmosphere is casual and comfortable yet stylish. The walls display local southern art available for sale. Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. And while in Wilson, spend some time in the cute gift/clothing boutiques down the street—Priceless Galleries and Southern Glow.
For farm fresh, down home cooking, Tyboogie’s Cafe in Tyronza will make your belly sing. Owned by Whitton Farm’s Jill and Keith Forrester (who also own Trolley Stop Cafe in Memphis), every meal here is like a Sunday church spread. Lunch is served cafeteria-style with several main course options and loads of veggies. Homemade cakes and cobblers too.
I’ve only scratched the surface, highlighting my favorite Northeast Arkansas small towns and off the beaten path locales. My corner of the Arkansas Delta has much to offer. I hope you’ll visit soon!
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