Bella Vista Historical Museum
The Bella Vista Historical Museum, located on Highway 71 in Bella Vista (Benton County), preserves more than 100 years of the history of the local community, which originated as a summer resort, became a retirement and recreation village, and eventually became an incorporated municipality. The Bella Vista Historical Society, organized in 1976 as an outgrowth of the American bicentennial celebration that year, opened the original museum in 1985, with one addition completed in 1995 and a second addition completed in 2015. The museum receives some funding from the City of Bella Vista, and also relies on donations and membership dues to help pay for operating expenses.
The starting point for the museum collection was the receipt of materials from the Linebarger brothers’ estate, donated by their remaining heirs. The Linebarger brothers included Clarence A. Linebarger, who was the general manager and part owner of the summer resort at Bella Vista from 1917 to 1952. Over the years, other items were added to represent the farming history of the area before development. Also featured are the E. L. Keith decade of the summer resort in the 1950s, and “the Cooper years” that began with the opening in 1965 of the village developed by John Cooper Sr.
The entryway to the museum is called the Linebarger Room. The addition built in 2015 is named after one of the Linebarger granddaughters, Carole Harter. Those two rooms contain exhibits representing the 1915–1964 era. Beyond that is another large room, called the Cooper Room, which has exhibits from 1965 to the present. The museum also displays artifacts from the Native American history of the area.
A historic log cabin was added to the museum grounds. It was built circa 1912 in what is now the western part of Bella Vista by C. C. Cooper (no relation to John Cooper), then dismantled and moved to central Bella Vista in 1974 by Paul Parish, who was a wood sculptor and wanted to use it as his art gallery. After he died in 1997, his daughter sold his property to Scott and Angie Butler, and they donated the cabin to the museum in 2018. It was moved to the museum grounds in 2019 without being dismantled. The project was funded by several local grants and many individual donations. Community residents also donated period furnishings for the cabin, and it is now available for touring during the museum’s open hours.
The museum shares the story of Bella Vista by offering books in its gift shop on the history of Bella Vista, conducting driving tours of historic sites within the city, presenting history programs to various churches and civic groups throughout the community, and conducting group tours of the museum.
Two events are hosted at the museum each year: the annual membership meeting in the spring with a guest speaker, and an open house for the public each fall. In 2019, the Bella Vista Civil War Round Table was started; it meets monthly at the museum, featuring regional and national speakers. For the centennial anniversary of Lake Bella Vista, built in 1915, a large lakeside celebration was held in May 2015, with more than 200 attendees coming through the large tent set up that day to see the exhibits, watch Bella Vista history videos, purchase souvenirs, and enjoy refreshments.
The museum is operated by the Bella Vista Historical Society, which is governed by a board of directors. The museum operates with an all-volunteer staff and is open five afternoons per week.
For additional information:
Bella Vista Historical Museum. http://www.bellavistamuseum.org/ (accessed October 15, 2020).
Bella Vista Historical Society
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