They'll be racing outhouses later this month in Mountain View. Yes, outhouses.
The annual Bean Fest and Outhouse Races are scheduled for Oct. 25-26. It's the 37th year for an event that draws thousands of people to the Stone County seat for music, pinto beans, cornbread and the laughs provided by the outhouse racing teams. Live music on the square will include a mix of gospel, bluegrass and folk with performances on the courthouse stage from noon until 6 p.m. that Friday, and from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday. Impromptu sessions will occur throughout the day on adjacent lots.
The variety of music that can be heard is a part of Mountain View's charm.
Fires will be lit early that Saturday morning under 30 cast-iron pots that are loaded with 2,000 pounds of pinto beans. Members of the bean cooking teams will be dressed in distinctive outfits. Cups of beans will be served beginning at noon.
An hour later, what's known as the Parade of Outhouses will take place. The wheeled outhouses have steering devices for the drivers, who sit on the seats in the outhouses. Two people will push each outhouse from behind. Races are held during the afternoon.
Mountain View, which saw its population almost triple from 983 in the 1960 census to 2,748 in the 2010 census, has been able to carve out its niche in the booming Arkansas tourism sector despite its geographical isolation in the Ozarks. The isolation is part of the charm for many visitors.
"Until the Civil War, the area now known as Stone County was part of Izard County," Edie Nicholson writes for the Central Arkansas Library System's Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "No city of Mountain View existed and few settlers resided on its soil. However, when Stone County was formed in 1873, a site at the center of the county was chosen to be the seat of government. After some disagreement on what to name the county seat, a group of citizens held a drawing. ... [S]ources conflict about who submitted the name 'Mountain View'."
Mountain View was incorporated as a town in 1890. The first courthouse was a log structure. It was replaced by a two-story frame courthouse in 1888. The current courthouse was built in 1923.
Downtown fires destroyed a number of buildings in 1936 and 1946. A tornado hit Mountain View in February 2008. Each time, the town bounced back.
"Agriculture--mainly beef cattle and poultry--and timber have always been important industries for the Mountain View area, but the community struggled to attract industry because of its inaccessibility," Nicholson writes. "The roads leading out of Mountain View--with the exception of Highway 14 toward Batesville ...--weren't paved until the late 1960s and early 1970s, and local residents feared that the community would decline if it didn't find a way to attract visitors. In the 1960s, a group of local people saw the need to create a unique attraction in Mountain View that would help keep the small community alive. Many residents at that time enjoyed playing and singing traditional 'mountain music,' and informal gatherings were common."
The Arkansas Folk Festival began in 1963, and word spread that this was the place to truly experience Ozark culture.
Members of the Rackensack Society and other musicians began gathering at the courthouse each week to play. In 1973, the Ozark Folk Center, operated by the state of Arkansas, opened. There are additional attractions. The Stone Drive-In Theater is one of the last facilities of its type in the country. The nonprofit Arkansas Craft School on the square offers courses for children and adults. The city of Mountain View even operates a nine-hole golf course known as Pine Hills.
Once the turnaround started, entrepreneurs capitalized on additional assets in the area--trout fishing on the White River, cave tours at Blanchard Springs Caverns in the Ozark National Forest, and more. Homes were converted into bed-and-breakfast inns. Restaurants and gift shops sprang up. People now drive from miles around to buy products made by members of the Arkansas Craft Guild, which are sold at the Arkansas Craft Gallery just off the square.
Complementing the music on the courthouse lawn, a venue known as the Mountain View Meeting Place has opened on Washington Street next to the Wildflower Bed & Breakfast. In addition to the 1,000-seat music theater at the Ozark Folk Center, music venues include the Mountain View Folklore Society on Franklin Street, the Mountain View Gospel Opry in the gymnasium of the old school complex on School Avenue, and the Jimmy Driftwood Barn & Folk Hall of Fame as well as Mellon's Hole in the Wall Theater inside Mellon's Country Store, both on Arkansas 5.
Mountain View now receives national exposure from the Ozark Highlands Radio program, which is produced by the Ozark Folk Center. The program airs on more than 60 radio stations across the country.
Area business and civic leaders have done a good job building a schedule of events that draw visitors throughout the year. The Herb Harvest Fall Festival, which attracts herb enthusiasts from across the country, is being held this weekend at the Ozark Folk Center. The Mountain View Bluegrass Festival will take place Nov. 7-9. That will be followed by a Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 7 on the courthouse square, and a festival at Blanchard Springs known as Caroling in the Caverns from Nov. 29-Dec. 15.
In an era when heritage tourism is all the rage and travelers are demanding authenticity, this just might be Mountain View's moment.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 10/05/2019