Wonderland Cave is a natural underground cavern in Bella Vista (Benton County) about a mile east of U.S. 71 up Dartmoor Road, near Cooper Elementary School. Clarence Andrew (C. A.) Linebarger, general manager of the resort of Bella Vista, developed it as a tourist attraction and place for local entertainment, opening it on March 1, 1930. The cave was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 1, 1988.
About 300 feet into the cave from the entrance is a large, naturally vaulted chamber with a concrete floor. That is where dances were held for decades, with an alcove for a ten- to twelve-piece band, a thirty-foot bar at the opposite end, and wooden and stone booths around the perimeter. The generally horizontal floor area provided an exotic setting for dancing to big band and jazz music at this unusual nightclub. A sign outside the cave read, “The Largest Natural Place of Amusement in America.” The site evolved into what became known as the Wonderland Underground Nightclub.
After Prohibition ended, Linebarger started the Clarence Andrew Linebarger Winery in 1935, producing 1,513 gallons of wine in the first year. Wine was stored in the Wonderland Cave and was sold under the labels Belle of Bella Vista and Wonderland. The Linebarger brothers sold the Bella Vista Summer Resort to E. L. Keith in 1952, but did not include the cave in that sale. After Cooper Communities bought the resort from Keith in 1963, making the resort part of the new retirement village they were developing, they decided to lease the cave from the Linebargers for twenty years, starting in 1965, and used it for various functions. C. A. Linebarger, the last surviving Linebarger brother, died in 1978, so when Cooper chose not to renew the lease on the cave in 1985, the Linebarger heirs sold the cave to two businessmen from nearby Bentonville (Benton County), who opened it as a rock and roll nightclub in 1988. They gave up on the business in 1995, at which time they closed the cave and returned it to the Linebarger heirs, who sold it again to a businessman from California in 1996. That buyer had obtained a loan from California investors with the cave as collateral, so when he was unable to repay the loan, the cave went into the hands of those investors in 2004. The remaining investor announced plans in 2012 to reopen the cave and surrounding thirty acres as a tourist attraction. Unable to interest enough other investors in that project, the owner sold the cave in 2019 to Dartmoor Road LLC. The cave has remained closed since 1995, and future plans for it are unknown.
For additional information:
Fite, Gilbert C. From Vision to Reality: A History of Bella Vista Village, 1915–1993. Rogers, AR: RoArk Printing, Inc., 1993.
French, Anita. “Wonderland Cave.” The Weekly Vista, November 18, 1992.
Phillips, George H., ed. The Bella Vista Story. Bella Vista, AR: Bella Vista Historical Society, 1980.
Marilyn H. Collins
Bella Vista Historical Society
When I was a child, in the mid-1990s, some family friends of ours re-opened the Wonderland Cave as a night club. My dad was a bouncer there, and my mom helped with the books and office work during the day. I remember a lot of days when the three children of the managers, as well as me and my two brothers, would run around in the cave and play in the tunnels. There is a long tunnel you had to walk through to get to the main chamber where the dance floor, stage, and seating were. In the tunnel was a neat little wishing well to the right. Once you reached the main chamber, there were booths and benches that looked like they were carved right out of the cave floor. There was a tiki bar, and a disco ball hung from the ceiling. A few of us kids went back there a few years ago to see it, and it was quite defaced. But the wishing well was still intact. The tiki bar had collapsed, and there were pieces of the disco ball on the floor. The seating had graffiti all over it. The cave is a beautiful forgotten piece of Arkansas history, and it breaks my heart to see it in such poor shape and just a lonely chasm in the ground.
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