Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gilbert, Arkansas is a quiet, small town on the Buffalo River that is definately worth a visit

Welcome to Gilbert, Arkansas.

     There are many public access points along the Buffalo National River.  The small town of Gilbert, Arkansas in Searcy County has to be one of the most charming and picturesque points of interest along the river.  Gilbert is located about 3 miles down Arkansas State Highway 333 at its end.  Arkansas Highway 333 intersects with U. S. Highway 65 about 10 miles N/NW of the county seat at Marshall.  It is all paved highway, signed, and easy to find.

     Gilbert sprang up around the turn of the 20th century when the now de-funct Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad was built through the area.  According to Ben Fruehauf, the current proprietor of the General Store, most of the population lived about a mile or so up the road at a community called "Duff".  Once these folks learned the railroad would not pass through "Duff", they packed up and moved down the hill to the spot where the railroad would run parallel with the Buffalo River for a distance.  This location became known as Gilbert.    It was named in honor of Charles W. Gilbert, who was a corporate officer with the Allegheny Supply Company that was involved in building the railroad.  The general store opened in 1901 and expanded in 1906.  In its hey day, Gilbert reached a population of about 500 residents.  Most of them were engaged in jobs and activities related to local commerce that centered around the railroad. Today, the Gilbert city limit sign shows a population of  just 33 people.  This was taken at the 2000 census.  The population in 2012 is down to only about 13 according to Mr. Fruehauf. 

The Gilbert General Store, circa 1901.
It is unsigned, but still open to visitors.
The post office used to be in this store as well.

An interpretive marker outside the general store.

Steps leading up to the sidewalk at the general store,
past an inviting swing and an old rose bush.

     The railroad ceased operations in 1946.  The tracks were removed and sold for scrap in 1949, but there are still signs that once a railroad passed through this town.  As with so many other railroad towns, with the decline and eventual disappearance of the railroad, the town itself began to decline as well. People moved away to find jobs and earn a living.  Gilbert has received renewed interest since the Buffalo National River Park was established in 1972 and the park services' facilities gradually improved.

This is said to be the foundation support structure for
the old water tower serving the former M&NA Railroad.

     The small town now attracts those of us interested in the river and the national park.  The river access is a popular spot for canoeists and sightseers.  There are two hiking trails, one going upstream and the other downstream.  The downstream trail follows the route of the old railroad line.  The upstream trail is open for horseback riding as well.  The general store offers some ameneties for the river crowd, and there is the Gilbert Cafe that is open seasonably starting the middle of March that has some pretty good diner food.  A new RV Campground has opened just up the street from the cafe. 

The Gilbert Cafe, open for business.

This looked like it may now be a community building.

An unusually shaped barn or out building.

The Gilbert Fire Station.

One of the beautiful older homes in Gilbert.

The remains of an old home site.

This old, rusting railroad bridge still sits alongside
Arkansas Highway 333 about 1 mile out of town over "Dry Creek".  This
was along the former route of the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad.

     There are some beautiful and well maintained old homes in the town, and a small cemetery at the top of the hill past the cafe.  The town has a volunteer fire department, but nobody I spoke with seemed to think the town government was active anymore.

Gilbert Landing on the Buffalo National River.  These
signs are at all the river access points so canoeists will
know where they're arrived at.

The Buffalo National River at Gilbert.

Along the downstream walking trail.

The river as seen from the walking trail.

This particular trail will probably be grown up
by summer and tick and chigger infested.

The river as seen through the redbud trees.

The built-up embankment where once the
railroad crossed a bridge over the creek.

These tall support piers are evidence that once a
mighty railroad crossed the river at this location,
about 2 miles downstream from Gilbert landing.

A water depth gauge along the walking path.
The river once flooded all the way up to the steps
of the general store.

Tie up your horses here.

    It is certainly worth your time to stop at Gilbert for awhile.  You'll be glad you did !

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