Text by Claire Peeler | Photos courtesy of Wilson, AR
Nestled between verdant East Arkansas fields lies Wilson, a charming small town with humble roots and big ambitions. While seeking to honor its significant heritage, modern-day Wilson is continuously taking strides to improve itself. A quaint town square, a farm-to-table restaurant and multiple music events are a just few reasons to make the short 45-minute drive from Memphis to Wilson for an enjoyable day trip this summer.
History of Wilson
Wilson was founded by Robert E. Lee Wilson in 1886 and soon grew into a booming company town, the hub of Wilson’s cotton empire. The town remained in the Wilson family until 2010, when The Lawrence Group took over ownership. The group’s goals were to revitalize the failing community and to keep the longstanding character and history of Wilson alive through preserving its unique past.
The city’s Tudor-inspired Town Square, developed in 1925 by Robert E. Lee Wilson Jr., remains intact and operating. Galleries, boutiques, a pharmacy, library, supermarket and much more remain around the square for visitors to explore. Another historic site, expected to debut this fall, is the Hampson Archeological Museum. The facility will house a collection of artifacts found in a nearby Native American archeological site. Some relics are thought to date back to 1400-1650 AD. The museum will offer special programming and educational opportunities.
Wilson has always been an agricultural hub of the Arkansas Delta. This distinctive part of the town’s history is still a vital aspect of its functionality today. One such agricultural business that prides itself on sustaining the area’s healthy food economy is Wilson Gardens. The organic farm grows fruits, herbs and vegetables without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. The garden shop features fresh flowers, house-grown produce, and other locally-sourced items such as jams and jellies.
The restaurant in the town’s center partners with Wilson Gardens to source healthy, organic produce on its menu. Wilson Café was founded in 2013 by owners Joe Cartwright and Shari’ Haley, who both had worked in the restaurant business in Memphis. The owners shared a desire to run a restaurant that incorporated local foods into a Southern-style menu. Cartwright and Haley have built the cafe into a gathering spot and culinary center for the town. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy lunch after shopping and exploring this small town’s charm.
Modern-day General Store
A small-town general store is a rare sighting nowadays, but with the help of critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Holly Williams, Wilson has its very own modern-day version of the once-popular emporium. White’s Mercantile opened its third location (other stores are in Nashville and Franklin, TN) in Wilson last month. Williams personally curates every item in the store, and each carries special meaning for her. Look for products bearing a handwritten note describing the piece’s meaning to Williams and her famous family (she’s the granddaughter of country legend Hank Williams). This unique, personal touch adds authentic flair to the store. Modern and chic, White’s includes a market/food section, and also carries dog beds and treats, watches, cosmetics, custom Wilson drinking glasses and much more.
Talent & Tunes
Wilson is located on the important cultural corridor known as Highway 61 or the Great River Road. The town embraces its musical history through the Wilson Music Series, a quarterly event featuring local, regional and national artists performing in venues across town. On June 24 country artist Sammy Kershaw will present an evening of songs and stories at the Delta School. Tickets are available through eventbrite.com.
Wilson hopes to expand its local artistic talent by providing studio space for artists eager to create and share their work with others. This Artist Residency Program brings visual artists to town to create pieces inspired by the local landscape, people and culture of the region. Public art already has a presence in Wilson in the form of the Industrial Connection Art Installation. Conceived and created by three University of Memphis art students, the work reanimates the concrete slab next to the original Lee Wilson Company cotton gin and explores its location’s juxtaposition between organic and industrial.
For more information on Wilson and upcoming events in the town, visit www.wilsonarkansas.com.