Soon after Arkansas statehood was confirmed by the Congressional Act of 1836, the Arkansas General Assembly created the counties of Benton, Washington, and Crawford, carving them from Lovely County, which encompassed a sizable portion of northwest Arkansas. In 1837, Bentonville was designated the seat of Benton County because of its central location. The county and the town’s name honors Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, who helped pass the bill for Arkansas’s statehood. As county seat, Bentonville became the hub of the county’s primitive road network. Bentonville grew slowly, surrounding its classic town square and county courthouse with the usual complement of institutional and commercial buildings, most built of wood. Many were burned in the Civil War following the bloody collision of Federal and Confederate armies at Pea Ridge (see BN13), a few miles north of Bentonville. Reconstruction was marked by much new building, almost all using locally produced brick. Although the St. Louis—San Francisco (the Frisco) line bypassed the county seat, running six miles to the east in 1881, a spur was completed to Bentonville in 1883. The railroad helped the town become a distribution center for the apple industry, but from the 1930s, after crop diseases devastated apple production, Bentonville became important as a center for the county’s many poultry farms.
One of the most familiar retail names in the nation, Walmart, had its beginning on Bentonville’s town square. Sam Walton opened Walton’s five-and-ten in 1951, and within a decade his operation had expanded into a regional chain of retail stores, catering primarily to small and medium-sized towns in Middle America. Global expansion plays a significant role in distributing patterns of American economy and culture. Walton’s original store remains on Bentonville’s town square as a corporate museum and visitor center. In the twenty-first century, Bentonville has emerged as a tourist destination, offering historic buildings as well as museums, most notably Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (BN12).
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