If you’re looking for a weekend escape within the Natural State, there might be a place that hasn’t come up on your radar yet: Harrison. While it sometimes makes headlines for more controversial reasons, the town has charming qualities that may get overlooked. From great local eats to a quaint, historical hotel, it’s worth checking out. Not to mention, it’s tucked perfectly in between the Buffalo River and Branson so you can have an outdoor adventure or do some outlet shopping. Here are some places worth checking out.

SUBTERRANEAN ADVENTURES

You don’t need spelunking equipment to explore some of the best caverns in the Ozarks. Just head a few miles out of town to Mystic Caverns and Crystal Dome. The area surrounding these caves was settled in the 1830s and the community was called Wilcockson. It is believed that people explored the smaller cave, Mystic Cavern, during those years, but the earliest physical evidence of entry are from April 6, 1919, when a man named Adam Kolbe carved his mark into the walls. In the 1920s, visitors toured it with the help of a kerosene lantern. According to manager Joey Ryan, the largest chamber, known as the Ballroom, earned its name as a speakeasy from 1930-34. A dance floor constructed from yellow locust logs covered the entire room. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Ballroom was the hotspot for dancing, socializing and, of course, knocking back some good old Ozark moonshine.

Neighbor’s Mill in Harrison, Arkansas

In 1938, all tours were shut down as the state began to regulate cavern tours for safety purposes. Eleven years later, the Raney family purchased and reopened Mystic Cavern, fortifying the structure enough to make it suitable for a consistent flow of visitors. The family operated tours of the cave until 1966, when they sold the  property to Dogpatch USA. The ruins of Dogpatch, which closed in the 1990s, lie about a mile away from the caves themselves and the abandoned theme park is visible from the road but off-limits to visitors. The owners of Dogpatch discovered the second cave, Crystal Dome, in 1967 while constructing a driveway for the Mystic Cavern facility. The most interesting feature of Crystal Dome is just how pristine it is. Over the years, Mystic Cavern’s stalagmites were chipped away due to the market for such minerals. While that cave still has some pretty majestic features, such as the 28-foot-tall “pipe organ,” Crystal Dome is perfectly preserved — a glimpse at what its sister cavern looked like before those late-night hoedowns during Prohibition. The most awe-inspiring part of this cavern is the namesake structure that rises 70 feet above the floor. The ceiling of the Crystal Dome is still another 40 feet below the surface, putting visitors at 110 feet below ground. Adjectives can’t do these caves justice. They’re definitely worth seeing in person and make a great family outing that only takes a couple of hours of your time.

Buffalo River viewed from the Scenic 7 Byway

THE BUFFALO RIVER

Even before its establishment in 1972 as America’s first national river, the Buffalo River was a draw for lovers of the outdoors. The river stretches for 135 miles, unbroken by dams or other structures. It is popular for canoeing, camping and fishing. The eroded bluffs of sandstone, limestone and dolomite tower majestically above the river. Guided tours are available through private, authorized businesses as well, including a tour for nature photographers. Horseback riding is also a popular activity on the Buffalo. You never know what kind of animals you might see. The river is home to everything from elk to black bears to mountain lions. It’s one of the go-to places for adventure in Arkansas.

DINNER WITH THE NEIGHBORS

So now that you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the outdoors, you need to grab lunch. Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Café, located at 1012 Highway 65 North in Harrison, is just the place to go. What makes it so unique is the artisanal approach they take to preparing their breads. They use a 110-year-old grist mill to grind non-GMO, chemical-free whole grains. Their bakers start at 3 a.m. each day, creating more than two dozen traditional American hearth breads, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, a dozen different muffins, scones, brioche, sweet breads, pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cupcakes and more. Their breads are used for signature sandwiches, such as the Fiesta Chicken, and to complement the soups and hand-tossed salads.

Other popular café items include the Honey Pecan Chicken Salad, the house-made tomato basil soup, the signature salads and Arkansas’ favorite grilled sandwich: the Woo Pig Sooie. A must-have for pork lovers, this sandwich is filled with ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and barbecue chipotle-ranch dressing. Their coffee comes from Mountain Bird Coffee of Eureka Springs, including some house blends. This dedication to wholesome and often locally sourced ingredients sets them apart in the area.

“We use fresh, local ingredients in season,” says co-founder Mike Nabors. “We have a cooperative program with North Arkansas College to purchase all the lettuce they produce in their hydroponic greenhouse. We partner with Cline Berry Farm and we purchase locally grown peaches and tomatoes. I grow much of our fresh basil and cherry tomatoes in my garden.”

Neighbor’s Mill has become a hotspot for travelers who often come by in the summer and fall. You can take home a taste of their breads by visiting their restaurants in Harrison and Springfield, Missouri, or by shopping at one of the 30 health-food stores, grocery stores and other restaurants that carry the bread. Neighbor’s Mill even sells breads to places like Chateau on the Lake, Big Cedar Lodge, Ruby’s Market and the Branson Hilton. They plan to open a third restaurant location off the Pleasant Grove Road exit in Rogers.

A PLACE TO LAY YOUR HEAD

If you’re not the type to camp out on the Buffalo River, check out the Hotel Seville, located at 302 N. Main Street near downtown. The gorgeous structure is a throwback to the roaring 20s, when it was built. Much of the architecture remains, including the tiles, mosaics and even some original rooms. Other rooms are being refurbished, since the building was made from mud and plaster, a construction technique of the time. Currently, the hotel has 52 rooms along with an office, a media center, a small fitness center and a covered parking garage. And according to general manager Deborah Ellis, it is one of the closest hotels to the Buffalo River.
The Hotel Seville was opened in September 1929, a month before Wall Street crashed, by a group of elite businessmen who wanted to turn it into the social hub of the town. It survived much of the Great Depression, but closed toward the end. Over the years, it has survived a flood, tornadoes and other manifestations of nature’s wrath. In 2008, some of the rooms were remodeled and central heating and air was added — a necessary amenity for most seasons in Arkansas. It is the only hotel in town with a restaurant. John Paul’s Bar and Grill has become known for their steaks such as their 16-oz. ribeye and 12-oz. New York Strip, all made from beef that is aged 30 to 45 days in-house before preparation. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Room rates start around $90 and the busy seasons are June and September through November.

Ellis feels that the Hotel Seville is the perfect place for travelers to stay in town.

“We are the hub,” she said. “People can stay here and within 30 minutes be in Branson, Jasper, Ponca, Diamond City, Bull Shoals Lake. So a lot of people stay here and they hike and they bike; they explore the waterfalls and caves. Then they come back here tired and have a good meal and start it all over the next day.”

www.harrisonarkansas.org

www.1929hotelseville.com

www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm

www.neighborsmill.com

 


Photography by Meredith Mashburn


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