Oark General Store
The Oark General Store is located in the Ozark Mountains off State Highway 215 about twenty-one miles north of Clarksville (Johnson County). Many believe it to be the oldest continuously operating store in Arkansas. It was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on March 3, 1995.
Oark is an unincorporated community surrounded by the Ozark National Forest. The area was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before white settlers came into the area by the mid-1800s. These settlers were attracted to the abundant natural resources and the many fur-bearing animals. Today, people are attracted to the area’s scenic beauty, hiking trails, the nearby Mulberry River, and the well-known historic general store and café.
F. M. Nelson moved to the isolated community of Oark and, in 1889, purchased the land on which the store now stands. He is believed to have opened the general store in 1890. The store played an important role in the development of the isolated community, providing locals with necessities that they could not produce themselves. Tradition holds that the store also served as the local post office for many years.
The store likely always served some kind of prepared food, probably sandwiches in its early days. The store was enlarged by the 1960s but did not become a full-scale restaurant until the 1990s. With the development of the Ozark National Forest—and the rise in the popularity of hiking, hunting, camping, and floating on the nearby Mulberry River—the store became the area stopping place to stock up on supplies and fuel and to get something to eat.
With its local monopoly, the store prospered and continued to remain open. Although the store has changed ownership a number of times over the years, it has never closed. Brian and Reagan Eisele moved to the area and purchased the store in May 2012. Both had previously worked in the Washington DC offices of their local congressmen; Brian worked for South Carolina representative Joe Wilson and Reagan worked for Arkansas senator John Boozman.
In the twenty-first century, the store is chiefly a restaurant, but visitors can still purchase a limited selection of other items. The restaurant is open every day of the week except Tuesday; it generally closes for the Christmas/New Year holidays and reopens in early January. The restaurant has hosted visitors from all over the world. The Arkansas Department of Transportation estimates that more than 300 vehicles pass by the business each day. It is not unusual for that number and more to be served at the restaurant every day.
In 1995, the Oark General Store was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places. Although the interior of the building retains its original floor and ceiling, the building was ruled ineligible for inclusion on National Register of Historic Places due to the many alterations.
For additional information:
Neiswanger, Robbie. “Oasis for Amity, Food in Oark.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 12, 2017, pp. 1G, 8G.
“Oark General Store.” https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-register/oark-general-store (accessed June 30, 2022).
Oark General Store. http://www.oarkgeneralstore.com/ (accessed June 30, 2022).
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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