You are here

Queen Wilhelmina State Park and the Wonder House

-A A +A
1963 park; 1931 Wonder House, Carlos Hill and Phil Vance; 1975 lodge; 2015 lodge renovated, The Borné Firm. 3877 AR 88 W, 12 miles northwest of Mena
  • (Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, A Division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, Ralph Wilcox, photographer)

From the 1880s subsistence farmers had been attracted to Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak at 2,681 feet, because of its unusually level ridgetop, its cool breezes, and the spectacular views of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains. Their mountain tranquility was interrupted, however, in 1898, when Arthur Stilwell and his investors in the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad, having laid out Mena in the valley below, decided to create a mountain resort at the summit. They hoped to attract clientele from the Texas and Missouri lowlands who would travel on their railroad to reach the airy destination. A three-story native stone and frame lodge was constructed, its gaslit brilliance visible for miles at night. Since most of the investors were Dutch, the hotel was named the Queen Wilhelmina Inn in honor of the Netherlands’ young queen, who despite the investors’ high hopes never visited the state. While Stilwell’s railroad venture flourished, the resort did not, and by 1910 the lodge was in disrepair. In 1957 the state legislature established a 460-acre park on the site, retaining the original name, and in 1963 constructed a second lodge on the footprint of the first, only to have it destroyed by fire just ten years later. The present lodge (and the third on the ridgetop site) opened in November 1975. The two-story native stone and wood building offers impressive mountain views from its large porch and curved dining room, but overall the building was disappointingly nondescript, though it was made lighter, airier, and more attractive inside in the 2015 renovation. Besides the walking trails within the park, two federally designated recreational travel routes pass through the park. The 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive, a national scenic byway, connects Mena with Talihina, Oklahoma. The 225-mile-long Ouachita National Recreational Trail, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, connects Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock with Talimena State Park in Oklahoma, and about three of its miles traverse Queen Wilhelmina Park.

Conjuring up images of Hansel and Gretel, a delightful oddity, aptly named the “Wonder House,” is located a short distance from the lodge. This small rustic stone vacation cottage is composed of two gabled-roof sections placed perpendicular to each other, one higher and one lower on the hillside and connected by a breezeway. The large, uncut stones collected from the hillsides often seem not so much “laid” as jumbled together. The front porch of the upper (south) section is formed by three precipitously steep jagged arches; the adjacent small stone staircase leading to the second level winds around an exterior chimney. The lower (north) section contained primarily sleeping areas on seven different levels, all connected by short interior staircases ascending clockwise, an arrangement visible on the exterior where no two windows are on the same level. The cottage was designed by an amateur builder, Carlos Hill, an Iowa native, who, reportedly, rode his motorcycle to Mena to attend Commonwealth College. With the help of an assistant, Phil Vance, the dwelling was completed in 1931 and purchased soon after by oilman C. E. Foster of Muskogee, Oklahoma. Hill became interested in constructing affordable houses using native materials; of the five he built on Rich Mountain, only the Wonder House remains intact. The house was acquired by the park in 1958.

Writing Credits

Cyrus A. Sutherland with Gregory Herman, Claudia Shannon, Jean Sizemore Jeannie M. Whayne and Contributors


What's Nearby


Cyrus A. Sutherland with Gregory Herman, Claudia Shannon, Jean Sizemore Jeannie M. Whayne and Contributors, "Queen Wilhelmina State Park and the Wonder House", [Mena, Arkansas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Arkansas

Buildings of Arkansas, Cyrus A. Sutherland and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018, 157-158.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.