Named for Thomas Hart Benton, one of the most colorful characters in American Benton is located halfway between Little Rock and Hot Springs along I-30. It’s a great place for a day trip or as a stopping point on the way to spend the day in Little Rock.
Benton’s town square is a focal point. Be sure to stop by the Gann Museum of Saline County, the only known structure in the world constructed of bauxite, which is mined in the region.
The discovery of bauxite ore, the source ore for aluminum, is the reason this area of Saline County was settled. This is only place in the United States where it has been feasible to commercially mine the aluminum. The industry took hold in this area in 1899 with top output coming during World War II, when demand increased because German subs were sinking foreign ore ships. The mining thrived for many, many years before the high grade, low silica bauxite ore gave out.
The picturesque Benton town square is the focal point of the community. Don’t miss the oddity of the Gann Museum of Saline County, housed in the only known structure in the world constructed of bauxite. In addition to the history of the county, the museum boasts an impressive collection of Niloak Pottery, made in the region from 1909 to 1946. The unique method of “swirling” colors, the pottery’s distinctive trademark, died with creator Charles Hyten, making the pieces highly sought after by collectors. The Royal Theatre, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, hosts live theatrical productions. One of the town’s main thoroughfares, Military Road, dates to the 1830s. This route parallels the Old Southwest Trail used by frontier travelers on their way West. The Southwest Trail is part of the Arkansas Heritage Trails System.
You can also check out the Royal Theatre, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and hosts live theatrical production.
Pick your own homegrown pumpkin at Roseberry Farms, a 56-acre farm (12223 Hwy. 9, Benton, 501-722-8545). Visit chickens, goats, and rabbits, enjoy hayrides and thrills on the tractor-pulled barrel ride, play in a hay fort and more. Open seasonally in the fall.
Take a train ride Mary’s Place Pumpkin Patch (3705 Hwy. 5 N., Bryant, 501-847-3900) Kids can play in a wooden maze, treehouse, and a hay mountain. Open seasonally in the fall.
The Great Outdoors
Paddle your canoe on the Saline River, one of the last major undammed streams in the Ouachita Mountain system. The river offers excellent fishing, scenery and backcountry floating and is considered one of the most underrated fishing rivers in Arkansas with smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass.
Saline River Canoe (4444 Hwy. 5, Benton, 501-749-2266), offers canoe, kayak & tube rentals, shuttle & guide services, and store with restaurant & supplies on the Saline River.
Bryant is a community around 20 miles southwest of Little Rock.
City of Bryant
This central Arkansas community bears the distinction of surrounding the geographical center of the state. A historical marker on Ark. 5 next to Pinecrest Cemetery in Saline County marks the spot. The marker says that the “Geographical Center of Arkansas is a Few Steps North of This Highway.” The marker was dedicated in1936 as part of the state’s first centennial celebration.
Bryant, like many Arkansas towns, depended on the railroad for its beginnings. In 1871 during Reconstruction (1865-1877), the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad began working on a line from Little Rock, completing it in 1973. Many businesses began to move to town and prosper because of the railroad.
The Bryant Township was created in 1878, becoming the first time the name “Bryant” was officially used. Continued growth led to Bryant becoming an incorporated town on in 1892. The mining boon at nearby Bauxite during World War II led to another period of growth. In the 1950s, Bryant became a prime location on the first stretch of interstate in Arkansas: Interstate 30 from Little Rock southwest to Texarkana. Much like the railroad decades before, the highway led to an increase in population.