WAR EAGLE RIVER
Rich in History, Scenic Beauty
Thanks to JoAnn Graham of Ozark Life Country for letting us reproduce this article!
As early as 1803, when explorers were dispatched to map and survey lands acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, visitors were beguiled by the tranquil beauty of the War Eagle River and the surrounding valley located near what is today Rogers, Arkansas.
One of the surveyors sent to assess the value of lands in North Arkansas was moved to note in his report that in his opinion, the only parcels worth the five cents an acre paid to France for the Louisiana Purchase were the lands along the War Eagle River.
Sylvanus Blackburn, a Tennessee native who arrived at the War Eagle River in 1832 by ox-drawn wagon found it pleasing enough to establish his 160 acre homestead upon its banks. By 1838 the Blackburns had prospered sufficiently to build a grist mill, blacksmith shop, saw mill and carpentry business.
When Civil War was declared, all five of Blackburn's sons joined the Confederate Army. Sylvanus took his wife, Catherine, and older members of the family to Texas for safety during the war. Their vacated home was taken over by Confederate forces and served for a time as headquarters for a Confederate general. Two days before the battle of Pea Ridge, the grist mill, which Sylvanus had rebuilt after it was lost to a flood in 1848,was burned by Confederate forces to prevent it falling into Union hands.
Blackburn's son, James, rebuilt the grist mill once more in 1873, this time installing a cast iron turbine waterwheel which not only ground flour but drove a saw mill for the thriving lumber trade. Much of the lumber used to build Fayetteville, Arkansas and Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus was cut at the War Eagle saw mill.
The War Eagle homestead remained in the Blackburn family for some eighty years. By the time the property was acquired by Dr. Kilgo in the early 1900's, the region was becoming renowned for its fine fishing, boasting an abundance of black bass, crappie and red horse.
The Blackburn home was transformed into the War Eagle Hotel, and during the 1920's and 1930's, War Eagle became a resort 'boomtown' to rival other popular Ozark resorts like Eureka Springs and Bella Vista.
In 1924, the grist mill burned down a second time. After extensive research, a faithful reproduction of the 1873 mill was built upon the original site and foundation of the previous three. War Eagle is the only working mill in Arkansas, and the first such mill to be built in the state in ninety years. Powered by the War Eagle River, the eighteen-foot cypress waterwheel is believed to be the only undershot water wheel now in operation in the United States.
Visitors can feel the vibrations from the mighty stone buries grinding the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, buckwheat flour, grits, cereals and various whole grain mixes that are sold, along with native crafts and gifts, in the War Eagle Mercantile on the second floor of the building. On the third floor, the Bean Palace Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily from March through December. The mill is open seven days a week during those months, and weekends only during January and February.
This unique piece of Ozark history is located thirteen miles east of Rogers, Arkansas off State Highway 12. The main portion of Sylvanus Blackburn's original house built in 1833 is still occupied, and his farm the site of the nationally known October Fair at War Eagle. The juried fair features the best in arts and crafts, accepting only items created by artists and craftsmen from the four Ozark states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas. The first weekend in May, the farm hosts the annual War Eagle Antique and Heritage Crafts Fair. In June of each year, a two week Arts and Crafts seminar attracts students from all over the country, preserving the tradition of native Ozark arts and crafts for future generations.