Permanent Exhibits

Modern Times

When World War II veterans returned to Northwest Arkansas, the entire six-county region had a population of less than 140,000. Most people lived in small towns and rural communities. One in three had a high school education. Fruit and vegetable farming and canning factories were giving way to poultry houses and processing plants as the dominant industries.

In the 1950s, John Tyson and his son Don expanded their Springdale-based Tyson's Feed and Hatchery to include a processing facility. Sam Walton purchased a Ben Franklin store in Bentonville and called it Walton's 5 & 10. And later, in the early 1970s, J. B. and Johnelle Hunt moved their small trucking company, J. B. Hunt Transport, from Stuttgart, Arkansas, to Lowell, just north of Springdale.

Today, the six-county population has grown to more than 560,000. Tyson Foods, Walmart, and
J. B. Hunt consistently rank among the most profitable corporations in the United States. Along with the University of Arkansas, they are the major employers in Northwest Arkansas.

The economic vitality of the region draws people from all over the world to live and work here. Northwest Arkansas's growing population includes large numbers of Latinx and Marshallese, and in smaller numbers, people from India, Vietnam, Laos, Germany, the Philippines, Korea, Canada, and China. While enriching the region's cultural diversity and bringing a more metropolitan feel, the ties to traditional rural and small-town ways of life remain strong. For long-time Ozarkers, the roots run deep.

Growth brings the need for improved and expanded infrastructure: transportation, utilities, communication, schools. Crucial to the region's vitality is an abundant water supply—fuel for a robust economic engine—provided by Beaver Lake.

Tourism also plays a major role in the prosperity of Northwest Arkansas, which is home to the nation's first National River, a world-class art museum, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the United States, a Victorian village known as a mecca for the arts and diversity, and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The years since World War II have seen the region, like the rest of the nation, dealing with difficult political and social issues such as civil rights, overseas military conflicts, and environmental concerns. Conservative and progressive voices are both alive and well in Northwest Arkansas.

Along with the booming growth and vitality of the region are stories of loss. Mom-and-pop businesses close their doors because they can't compete with chain stores. Farms and homesteads make way for a man-made lake and a national river. Outmigration from rural communities and small towns leads to school consolidation, post office closures, and the shuttered doors of a country church.

Yet in the midst of all this change, a strong sense of place remains, defined by the region's natural beauty and resilient people who possess a tireless work ethic, a plucky independence, and an appreciation for taking risks.

Permanent Exhibits home

Photo of the MonthArtifact of the Month