Clarence A. Linebarger (1889–1978)
Clarence A. Linebarger was the general manager and part-owner of Bella Vista (Benton County), a successful summer resort in northwest Arkansas, from 1917 to 1952. In addition to the day-to-day management, he designed most of the resort’s amenities, including more than 500 summer residents’ cottages, accommodating the owners’ specifications while preserving the natural landscape.
C. A. Linebarger was born on August 17, 1889, in West Union, Indiana, to Samuel and Mary Linebarger. He was the third of three children. His family passed through Benton County later that year en route from Indiana to Crowley, Louisiana, where they became rice farmers. After his mother contracted tuberculosis, she asked her husband to take her to Bentonville (Benton County), because she was impressed with the area during their journey to Louisiana. The family moved in 1903, and Linebarger finished his schooling at Ouachita Academy in Bentonville just before his mother’s death in 1906.
In 1912, the older Linebarger brothers bought a town site to develop in Harris County, Texas, named Tomball. In 1908, Linebarger had joined his brothers in Tomball, where he learned the real estate promotion and development business.
He married Regina Agnes Naylor from Orange, Texas, in 1910, and the couple had one child.
After four years, the Linebarger brothers had sold most of their holdings in Tomball and were looking for another project. They wanted a less demanding life and decided to develop a summer resort around a spring about five miles north of Bentonville. They wanted to cater to a well-to-do clientele, and this meant the resort could be located away from the railroad lines because their clients had their own transportation.
Bella Vista had been founded as a real estate development in 1915 by the Bakers from Bentonville, who dammed Sugar Creek to create a small lake and tried to sell house lots to local families for summer cottages. The venture was unsuccessful, and the Linebarger brothers bought the Bakers’ holdings plus the surrounding land to develop their Bella Vista resort.
Linebarger moved to Bella Vista permanently in 1918. From that point until the resort was sold in 1952, he served as general manager. The Linebarger brothers sold more than 800 lots and constructed more than 500 summer cottages for their lot owners. They constructed a lodge, which was expanded to seventy-five rooms over the next eight years. In 1928, Linebarger convinced his brothers to build the modern three-story, sixty-five-room Sunset Hotel on a hill overlooking the lake. In 1930, he developed a nightclub called Wonderland Cave in the big cave on the property after being inspired by a visit to a Parisian club in a cellar named Petite Caveau.
Aside from their resort duties, Linebarger and his wife were active in the community. He was a Rotary club member and a thirty-second-degree Mason. His wife chaired Benton County’s Apple Blossom Festival Parade in 1926 and supported various special events and church functions in Bentonville. The couple also helped promote Ozark tourism and the apple industry in Benton County through sponsoring of the Ozark Smile Girl contest and serving on the board of the Bentonville Chamber of Commerce.
The resort began to falter when the Depression greatly affected the families who patronized the resort. World War II caused gas and tire rationing, so even those who had money could not travel to Bella Vista. Limited funds caused a deterioration of the resort’s facilities and changing lifestyles. Patronage dropped when cottage owners no longer moved to Bella Vista for the three-month summer season. The resort was sold in the early 1950s, and Linebarger retired.
Linebarger died on August 4, 1978, and is buried in the Bentonville City Cemetery.
For additional information:
Fife, Gilbert C. From Vision to Reality: A History of Bella Vista Village, 1915–1993. Rogers, AR: RoArk Print, 1993.
Phillips, George H., ed. The Bella Vista Story. Bella Vista, AR: Bella Vista Historical Society, 1980.
Bella Vista Historical Society
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
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