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DESTINATION

By Priscilla Willis | Photos courtesy of Historic Cane Hill

All Roads Lead to Cane Hill

Would you believe me if I told you there is a special place in Northwest Arkansas that was the first settlement in Washington County as well as the location of one of Arkansas’ first four-year colleges and its first co-ed college? Plus, the site of the Civil War Battle of Cane Hill in 1862 and home to 16 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Yes, it’s true! This remarkable small town is Historic Cane Hill — a mere 20 minutes southwest of Fayetteville on Highway 45.

Known as Canehill by some and Cane Hill by others, the area’s natural springs attracted the first European settlers and once served as a trading post for the surrounding apple orchards. Members of the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination considered education to be of utmost importance and established the school that became Cane Hill College, chartered in 1852. It would become the first co-ed college in the state.

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Photo by Rett Peek

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Cane Hill’s story also includes setbacks, decline and revival. Once positioned to become a flourishing epicenter of industry, commerce and higher education, Cane Hill suffered a blow when the railroad built through Arkansas in the second half of the 19th century bypassed the community in favor of nearby Prairie Grove.

 

The Civil War dramatically impacted the community when three of its four buildings were destroyed and the college closed. However, Cane Hill persevered and was reborn into a bustling community with a vibrant milling industry and local stoneware producer from the 1860s to 1880s. However, the college struggled to compete for enrollment with nearby Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and the school’s charter moved to Clarksville to become University of the Ozarks.

 

Historic Cane Hill, a nonprofit organization formed in 2013, supports a unique place where Ozark culture, history, education and nature merge in a rare community whose origin traces back to the 1820s. Its mission — to build on the legacies of architecture, education and the arts — is evident in the diverse programs and collaborations, both current and in development.

 

Through an appealing array of exhibitions, competitions and community events, Historic Cane Hill serves as a venue to experience art and culture rooted in the region’s history and the Ozark Mountains’ beautiful surroundings. Executive Director Vanessa McKuin stated nearly every day they learn new pieces of information from sources near and far. “It’s almost as if all roads lead to Cane Hill,” she said.

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Historic Cane Hill Art Gallery

 

An art gallery opening reception in March celebrated Historic Cane Hill’s collaboration with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and exhibition of the Arkansas State Quail and Turkey Stamp Art Competition at the Historic Cane Hill Art Gallery. The artwork from this national competition portrays the northern bobwhite quail and eastern wild turkey, two species important to the natural heritage of the Ozarks region. The exhibition featured selections from the juried competition, including winning entries for each category, which appear on the 2024 quail and turkey stamps issued by the AGFC. Wild-game enthusiasts came together for a quail dinner from the hand of chef Case Dighero. The event was limited to 30 tickets, and those lucky guests were treated to a beautiful evening of camaraderie and delectable Ozarkansas food culture.

 

The gallery is currently exhibiting artwork by John P. Lasater IV. A prolific figure in the plein air art scene for many years, John is widely regarded as one of the premier outdoor painters in America, evidenced by his invitation to join the prestigious Plein Air Painters of America. John lives, paints and teaches in Siloam Springs. His exhibition runs until July 6. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Museum Exhibitions and Research

The community’s museum presents even more insight into the remarkable story of Cane Hill. It features objects that connect to the inhabitants and provide a deeper understanding of their lives and experiences. The building, constructed around 1945 as the Shaker Yates Grocery Store, also served as an antique store, the local post office, and a trophy and wooden train-whistle manufacturer. In 2015, the structure was extensively renovated to house the museum collection.

 

The museum is free and open from Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors will find exhibitions such as Civil War Battle of Cane Hill, Life in Cane Hill, Ozark Folk Art: Cane Hill Style, Early Mills, Boonsboro Pottery and Timeline of Cane Hill History.

Many more educational collaborations are in development at Historic Cane Hill. For example, archeological digs are in progress at two 19th-century kiln sites discovered during investigations. Expert archeologists, the UA Anthropology Department, and Historic Cane Hill’s Museum Curator and Director of Arts and Culture Lawrence McElroy are assisting in cataloging more than 10,000 pieces of pottery and artifacts.

 

To hear stories dating back to the Trail of Tears through the period of enslavement and the Civil War is fascinating. The rich history of Cane Hill related to early Arkansas was gathered by historians such as Conrow Miller, institutions such as Shiloh Museum of Ozarks History, and memories and family histories from people with deep roots in Cane Hill. Still, there are largely untold stories currently being researched and waiting to be told.

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Trails and Walking Tours

 

Today, just as the natural wonders of the area drew European settlers, the pastoral setting and natural springs of Cane Hill are preserved and open for all to appreciate. Walking tour and trail maps are available at the trailhead and Historic Cane Hill Museum. Trails are open each day from sunrise to sunset. Four well-marked trails range from .25 miles to 1.2 miles and offer an alluring combination of history and nature.

 

The History Trail (Red) takes you from the Methodist Manse, the oldest standing structure, to Cane Hill Cemetery by way of Cane Hill’s iconic landmarks. The Welch Trail (White) is an easy walk along Jordan Creek and the Dr. Welch house ruins. The Earle Trail (Orange) begins at the Zeb Edmiston house, passes by rock facings, the Earles’ homestead and up to College Lookout. The fourth, and more difficult, McColloch Trail (Blue) takes you to an overlook where tales tell of three young girls who watched the Battle of Cane Hill during the Civil War.

 

Upcoming Events

If you’ve never heard of or visited Cane Hill, Historic Cane Hill invites visitors to discover this Ozark gem through its upcoming community events.

  • Aug. 24: Ozarks Bug Crawl – A partnership with professor and entomologist Austin Jones, UA Entomology and Plant Pathology Department students, and Scott Family Amazeum

  • Sept. 21: Cane Hill Harvest Festival – This community tradition offers visitors an experience combining history, Ozark culture, and a natural setting with modern amenities and entertainment. Join in the fun by enjoying a country breakfast, food trucks, live music, an arts and eats market, sorghum pressing demonstrations, tours of historic buildings and a quilt show.

  • Oct. 6: SoNA Beyond with the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas

  • Oct. 12: Apple History and Cider Pressing with Black Apple Hard Cider

  • Oct. 25: Cane Hill After Dark

  • Nov. 9 through Jan. 18, 2025: 6th annual Arkansas High School Artists Competition and Exhibition, sponsored by Historic Cane Hill in partnership with UA School of Art. The gallery will feature artwork submitted by Arkansas high school students in 10th through 12th grades.

For more information, visit www.historiccanehillar.org.

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