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Friday marked a big day for Genia Scarberry and the crew over at Bull Shoals Caverns and Mountain Village 1890.
For the last three years, Scarberry has worked with Bull Shoals Caverns owner Gerald Oates to get the destination marked down as a historical site with the Department of Arkansas Heritage. Oates has owned the 13-acre property for over ten years.
And the wait is finally over.
The State of Arkansas has named both sites as historical landmarks, paving the way for Oates and Scarberry to file for much-needed grant money to restore the aging property to its former glory. To make the news even better, Scarberry was notified on Friday that Arkansas would be filing to add the site to the national historical landmark registry, potentially allowing for the application of federal grants in the future.
“It took three years to do it, but we got it done,” said Genia Scarberry. “And now they have agreed to push it through nationally. Once that happens, Bull Shoals will be on the national registry as a historical district.”
Bull Shoals Cavern & Mountain Village 1890 features nine historic buildings from the surrounding area but has not been able to apply for grants to help maintain the buildings because of its for-profit status.
The move to list the site came after Scarberry and Mountain Village’s General Manager Jim Jenson attended a five-hour training session in Little Rock to learn the ins and outs of applying for a historical designation.
They discovered that while the popular Bull Shoals attraction can’t have the buildings listed as historical designations because of the business’s for-profit status, the business itself qualifies for a historical designation because it has been in operation since 1960.
The site was originally opened by Roy Danuser, a local attorney in Bull Shoals, who purchased the property from C.S. “Pappy” Woods Sr. before turning it into an attraction. The site has changed hands throughout the years and has been owned by several major Bull Shoals figures, including the Gastons and the Grahams.
Scarberry and her close friend Vicki Swanson of Flippin, who helped with writing, filed the request with the state in December of last year.
“We’ve been working really hard on promotions, and it was our 62nd birthday party that we just had an event here to celebrate,” Scarberry said. “We will be able to qualify for grants. Some of those we’ll have to match. At this time, I am looking for a grant writer.”
Bull Shoals cavern is listed as one of the oldest limestone caverns in the Ozark Mountain Range, formed by water method around 350 million years ago; local populations have used the caverns over the ages. The first human dwelling on the property is claimed to have been around 300 BC via carbon dating. During the Civil War, the caverns were used by soldiers to create saltpeter, one of the ingredients needed to create gunpowder.
The average temperature for the cave is 59 degrees. The cave features a waterfall, several streams, stalactites, stalagmites, drapolites, box work, columns, cave pearls, and more. It serves as a restful respite to native salamanders, frogs, camel crickets, and pipistrelle bats.
After laying dormant for several years in the 1900s, the property and caves were converted into an amusement park in the 1960s. The site, named Mountain Village 1890 for its iconic and historical buildings, flourished during that time, drawing in tourists visiting Bull Shoals.
The village was host to several festivals throughout the years and, for a time, featured a full cast of actors to put on performances at the village.
The village plays host to a variety of historical buildings and features, including a train depot from 1903 that serves as the village’s front office and gift shop, a locomotive from the Acme Brick Company train yard, a Blue Eye, Missouri community church from 1888, the Flippin family’s historical 1874 home, and the Blacksmith & Coffin Shop dating back to 1878 from Dawt, Missouri.
Also on the property is the home of Confederate Colonel William B. Jordan, who moved to the Monkey Run area of Baxter County in the 1860s, an original jailhouse from Calico Rock, an 1889 general store from Buford, an original 1881 bank from Ash Flat, the Martin House, which played host to President Herbert Hoover in 1893, and Uncle Willie’s Cabin, a small cabin that has been in the Bull Shoals area for as long as most can remember.
“We would like to restore them back to their original way, but we currently don’t have the finances to do that yet,” said Scarberry.
Each of the village’s historical buildings has suffered from time and exposure to the weather. At this time, several of the buildings are currently leaking and are in need of serious repair.
Following its explosion in popularity from its opening days, the property has slowly declined over the years, being passed off from one owner to the next. That process continued with Oates, the current owner, until a couple of years ago when he and Scarberry began to work to restore the property.
Since then, billboard signs have been purchased to advertise the property to tourists, and some work has begun on the site’s buildings. The property also began opening its doors to more local festivals, allowing them to draw more visitors to the historical site.
Scarberry said she had seen a tremendous turnaround in visitors to Mountain Village and Bullshoals Cavern in the last two years.
If Scarberry can get the district approved for grants, she said to expect several changes to both the village and the cavern, including new lighting for the caves, a new intercom system for tours, and the beginnings of major restoration projects on all of the buildings on the property.
“This has been one of the biggest obstacles of my life,” Scarberry said. “If it wasn’t for Vicki [Swanson], I would have never been able to do this.”
Mountain Village 1890 is located at 1011 C.S. Woods Boulevard in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. For more information, including its seasonal dates, please contact (870) 445-7177.