We departed Petit Jean with a destination of Gilbert, AR. We agreed that we didn’t want to take the most direct way there, but the most rural and scenic. We found both along our route. Arkansas highways 105, 27, 377 and 74 fit the bill. Rural and scenic, all the way. Old communities like Smyrna, Nogo, and Snowball. Mountain vista’s as we rode the ridge tops.
Soon after you cross the Buffalo River traveling North on Hwy 65, you will see a sign for Arkansas highway 333, and the town of Gilbert. Blink and you might miss the sign, as your eyes are drawn to a big tourist trap type business at the intersection. Three miles down, at the end of highway 333, and along the banks of the Buffalo River, lies Gilbert.
Gilbert was first settled around 1900 as your typical river and railroad town. For the first few years, thousands of cedar logs were cut upriver, and floated down the Buffalo during high water. These were corralled at Gilbert, loaded on rail cars and shipped out to be used for railroad ties and pencils. Main street, looking both ways.
As the river and railroad traffic began it’s decline around 1920, the town had a revival of sorts. The arrival of over forty families from a division of the Church of Christ. They picked Gilbert as the printing and distribution hub for their worldwide missionary network. That industry thrived until the late 1940’s, and they are responsible for most of the original housing that still stands today. From the early fifties, Gilbert just sat there, on its way to becoming a ghost town.
The creation of the Buffalo National River saved Gilbert from becoming a memory. People began purchasing and restoring the old homes remaining in the town. Cabins were built along the river, both rentals and homes. Many of the old houses along Main street are now guest cottages and B&B’s.
The river is once again the lifeblood of Gilbert.
The old grocery store is now the headquarters of a major float trip company, and there is a great little restaurant on Main street.
A new RV park has also opened with eighteen full hookup sites.
We were told Gilbert resembles Disneyworld from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Hundreds of folks in town each day to enjoy the river. The two days we were there, the four of us were the only tourists in town. We had a ball……jc