Date: October 2, 2023 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Bailey Dougan |
Hit the pavement to discover the storied communities of this special region, where the roads are flat and the roots run deep
The ducks were there before the rice, Fara Foster explains. We’ve stumbled upon the answer to this chicken-or-the-egg type riddle while discussing Stuttgart, which is both her new home and her hometown; her family moved away following sixth grade, and she returned only recently. “To say I’m a little bit like a duck out of water is probably fitting,” she says with a laugh.
In her day-to-day as executive director of the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, Fara’s role is to help share the history of the region, dating all the way back to its pioneer beginnings. “The museum came out of an idea from our founder, Bennie Burkett,” she says. “She wanted to do something that preserved the history and the memories of the original prairie pioneers who came to this area sometime during the late 1870s to 1880s—her father being one of those people.” In addition to the museum’s 20,000 square feet dedicated to such subjects as waterfowl conservation, the advent of agricultural economy, and rice and soybean production, its artifacts also include outdoor structures. Visitors can tour a pioneer-era one-room schoolhouse and a reproduction church on the museum’s property, for example.
The museum tells stories that not only explain the city’s past but also help draw connections to the wider region; after all, Stuttgart is just one piece of the Grand Prairie, which itself is one of the five subregions of the Arkansas Delta. Many of the museum’s visitors, Fara says, seek out those narratives that connect the dots from one county to the next. “What I’ve noticed is that Saturdays are our daytripper days. We get folks from a two-hour radius from all over the state who hit up museums in a variety of different areas,” she says, listing the Arkansas Post in Gillett and the Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott as nearby examples. “It’s really cool that Arkansans get in their cars and drive to visit other areas’ museums. And they share their experiences with you.”
Lee Ann Hoskyn, chair of Stuttgart’s Advertising and Promotion Commission, echoes this sentiment. “I’m a daughter of the Delta, and Delta people aren’t afraid to travel,” she says. A Wabbaseka native, Lee Ann rattles off restaurants an hour away alongside those in town as some of her favorites. She’s a cheerleader for the city, encouraging all to come visit what the locals call “Sugartown.” “From Little Rock, it’s a great place to drive to for a day trip of shopping,” she says, noting that in addition to the boutiques along downtown’s Main Street, the Grand Prairie Farmers Market (open through October) is a favorite on Saturdays.
Running from Little Rock to Memphis, Interstate 40 bisects the Delta, forming a delineation between what’s referred to as the Upper and Lower Delta—another rough attempt at defining a region by borders and markers. In reality, the Delta is a web of communities, and each has ties to its agricultural beginnings while looking forward to the future. For Fara and the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, that means finding ways to continue engaging current visitors, whose ideas have inspired some of the museum’s recent programming. “A lot of the seasonal exhibits have come out of input from our guests during our Coffee with the Curator presentations,” she says, referring to a monthly educational program at the museum. “Someone will mention something and it leads to research in that particular area. It’s really interesting, the things that come out of people coming in and sharing their stories.” Read on for more of our favorite ways to discover the Delta, from Stuttgart to Wilson and Lake Village.
Located in Stuttgart’s historic downtown, Sugartown Mercantile (sugartownmercantile.com) has become a destination for a mix of local art, cheeky home décor, gourmet pantry goods, and even a curated selection of vintage finds. If shopping from afar, their website offers shipping. Coker Hampton Drug Company (cokerhampton.com) and Buerkle Drug & Gifts (870.673.1311), also in Stuttgart, are Main Street mainstays that continue to thrive as the downtown area is revitalized. In the Upper Delta, Blytheville Book Company (blythevillebookcompany.com) is a reimagining of the town’s beloved The Bookstore in Blytheville. BBC offers a cheery atmosphere for perusing the shelves for your next favorite read—and vinyl records, too.
In Lake Village, Rhoda’s Famous Tamales & Pies (870.265.3108) is known across the state and beyond for the late Rhoda Adams’s mouth-watering tamale and pie recipes. Drive north through McGehee and you can’t miss Hoots BBQ (870.222.1234), where you’ll want to fill up on pulled pork and chopped brisket. 420 & Turnrow Coffee (870.946.0452) in DeWitt offers a menu of salads, sandwiches, tacos, and nachos with ingredients sourced from local farms. In Jonesboro, visit the outdoor food truck park Huntington Square (huntingtonsquare.net) to choose from a variety of mobile cuisines, including pizza, Mexican, and smoothies.
Blues enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Helena every fall for the King Biscuit Blues Festival (kingbiscuitfestival.com), this year held October 4-7 with Grammy Award-nominated Tab Benoit and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band headlining. On October 14, Weiner plays host to the annual Arkansas Rice Festival (arkansasricefestival.com), which celebrates the role this crop has played in the area’s livelihood with a parade, contests, rice cook-off, and more. The Downtown Jonesboro Alliance presents Jonesboro Fall Fest (downtownjonesboro.com) on October 21 in Union Park. Here, shop vendor booths, eat at local food trucks, and enjoy crafts and live music, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. In Blytheville, the newly revamped Ritz Civic Center (ritzciviccenter.net) presents a line-up of special events and movie screenings, including a showing of cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween night. For an educational experience, visit Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center (rohwer.astate.edu) in McGehee. This museum explores themes of both injustice and hope through the stories of the people who were incarcerated there during World War II.
For an overnight visit in the Upper Delta, book a room at The Louis Hotel (thelouishotel.com), Wilson’s new boutique hotel; be sure to grab a nightcap at Staple, its lobby bar. In nearby Jonesboro, Intersect 311-Apart Hotel (intersect311.com) offers a convenient stay right off downtown’s Main Street. For accommodations in duck country, head to Boyd Farmhouse Inn (boydfarmhouseinn.com) in DeWitt, where amenities include complimentary breakfast and access to the restaurant and bar serving a menu of Southern favorites.