My husband and I recently took an impromptu trip to the small Delta town of Wilson, Arkansas. Our original plan was to visit Memphis but we were detoured by the realization that the place that we wanted to visit in Memphis wasn’t open.
We love small towns like Greenwood, Mississippi and Laurel Mississippi and Bryson City, NC…so after a bit of research…Wilson, Arkansas it was!
And what a gem we discovered! This is a small town with a look that is completely unique in the Mississippi River Delta region of Arkansas.
It has even been named one of “The 10 Best Small Towns in the U.S.” by Country Living
History of Wilson, Arkansas
So, how did Wilson come to be?
Lee Wilson was the original owner of the town. He founded Lee Wilson and Company in 1885 and kept the company within the same family for the next 125 years.
The business started as a sawmill. As the land was cleared farther and farther away from the mill, logging camps had to be established to house the workers. Several towns in the county, including Wilson, started out as a logging camp.
After the land was logged out Wilson decided to start farming. He also bought railroads in to more easily export his crops and bring people in to work the fields. In addition to farms and trains he also owned banks, mercantiles and cotton gins.
Wilson, Arkansas was developed originally as a company town where the farm workers and other employees were paid in money that could only be used at the stores and amenities in the town. We were told the local bank still had some of the company “money.”
How Did Wilson Get Its Unique Look
One of the most interesting things about Wilson is the unique Tudor styling of the buildings.
Lee Wilson Jr. and his wife returned from their honeymoon in Europe enthralled with the Tudor style buildings that they had seen while there. It was then decided that all new buildings in Wilson would be in the Tudor style and the existing buildings would be redecorated to match.
This makes the town of Wilson quite an anomaly in the Delta region! It comes seemingly out of nowhere in the best of ways.
Fast Forward to Wilson, Arkansas in 2010
The Wilson family land holdings were purchased by The Lawrence Group, headed by the late Gaylon Lawrence Sr and his son Gaylon Lawrence Jr. They acquired not only the farmland but almost all of the commercial real estate holdings including most of the town of Wilson.
Since 2012 Gaylon Lawrence Jr. has dedicated a considerable amount of time and money to the revitalization of the small town. The Lawrence Group moved their world headquarters to Wilson, Arkansas and even started a school in the town.
They partnered with the state of Arkansas to move the Hampson Archaeological Museum State Park into their new state of the art space on the town square, opened the Wilson Cafe and are attempting to bring in more small businesses to the town.
They Louis Hotel has recently opened on the town square as well!
We spoke at length with one of the people helping to recreate the town and learned that there are many hopes and plans for the future from creating a theater venue, to a brewery, to bike trails, skeet shooting, and fitness facilities.
It was fascinating to listen to all the upcoming ideas.
We were told that The Lawrence Group hopes to make Wilson not just a tourist destination or a stop for people on their way to and from Memphis, but also a wonderful place for the current and future residents to live.
And…What about Wilson, Arkansas Now?
As you can see there are big, big dreams for the future of Wilson.
However, it is already a great place to visit. Here are some of the highlights of Wilson today.
Where to eat
The Wilson Cafe on the square is a place that you must eat. We ate there for dinner on a Friday evening and brunch Saturday morning and were very pleased both times. The prices are unexpectedly high for a small town, but the food is also unexpectedly good!
This is not your average small town cafe.
The exterior is, of course, Tudor style and the interior has been decorated in a lovely rustic industrial. It is sleek and soothing in shades of grey, white, and black with a bank of windows across one side and a bar along the other.
The food is farm to table as much as possible, there is a fully stocked bar and a very good wine list. The servers were exceptionally pleasant and also knowledgeable about the food. Our meals here were very good and the experience and atmosphere were great as well.
Be sure and check the opening times and days before you go!
Where to stay
The hotel Louis had not yet opened when were there so we stayed at this cute 2 bedroom shotgun style Airbnb. It was extremely nice and we really enjoyed our stay here.
Just next door was a slightly larger 3 bedroom craftsman style home. It was adorable as well!
Both of these Airbnbs are within walking distance of the Cafe and the Wilson town square.
Now that the Louis Hotel is open to visitors this would be an amazing place to stay! It is a 16 room boutique hotel and no expense has been spared in its renovation.
The Delta School
The Delta School was founded in 2014.
Gaylon Lawrence believes that the rejuvenation of the area must start with education.
We drove by and the place is beautiful! I took the time to read about the school and it sounds like a exciting educational model. I suspect that it will be attractive to both parents and their children.
Things to do in Wilson, AR
Downtown Memphis is only about 45 miles away from Wilson. If you want to visit the big city but stay in a small town then Wilson might be a good option for you.
However, there is more to do in Wilson than you might expect!
Attend an event
One of the things that the town is doing to re-create itself is hosting a variety of wonderful events.
You won’t believe it when you take a look at the events calendar. There are so many opportunities to enjoy good food and drinks and to socialize.
We attended a wonderful wine tasting on the night we arrived in the very pretty brick and glass back room of the cafe.
But there is so much more! Be sure and check out the Wilson event calendar. There are bourbon dinners and tastings, martini making classes, and musical events. You might even consider buying a season pass for the Wilson Music series.
Walk the Town Square
It won’t take you long to see the town, but definitely amble around the square, observe the architecture, walk across the manicured front lawn, say hey to the people you pass and feel yourself slip into a relaxed state of mind.
You might even find yourself wishing you lived in a small town!
The Hampson Archeological Museum State Park
This small state park is located across the square from the Wilson cafe. You can read more about our visit to the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park here.
We really enjoyed this small but excellent museum. I tend to enjoy museums that are easy to navigate and very tightly focused. This one fits the bill.
The town of Wilson partnered with the state of Arkansas to build a new building to house the artifact collection of local amateur archeologist Dr. Hampson.
The building perfectly matches the Tudor style of the rest of the square, but inside it is modern and sparkling new.
the Boyhood Home of Johny Cash in Nearby Dyess
The boyhood home of Johnny Cash is in the nearby town of Dyess which also has a fascinating history. The 20 minute drive to Dyess from Wilson, Arkansas will take you through the gorgeous Delta farmland.
Even if you don’t think that you are a Johnny Cash fan this is an interesting stop as the town was created during the depression as part of the WPA in order to allow impoverished farmers a chance to own their land.
The Cash family was one of those who applied and were given a home and 40 acres to farm. Johnny Cash was raised here from the age of three until he graduated from high school. This was a great place to visit.
Dyess also holds the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival. Wilson would be a great place to stay if you plan to attend.
shopping in Wilson
There are some wonderful little shops in Wilson.
- You will definitely want to visit White’s Mercantile. This store was founded by Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr. The store is located just across the highway from the town square. It describes itself as being a fresh take on the classic general store for the modern-day tastemaker. They also have a Nashville, Tn location.
- The Wilson Pharmacy is both a working pharmacy and gift store. They combine everyday essential items with lovely home decor.
- Tom Beckbe has an outpost on the square in Wilson. This company crafts and carries high end hunting wear, hunting gear, and leather items.
- Gunn’s Supermarket is a surprisingly nice grocery store right on the square.
Visit the Grange
The grange is a culinary experience providing the town of Wilson with fresh, delicious small-batch food. This is a hub for the arts. Culinary arts as well as the artist in residency program. This is where you can find coffee as well as a variety of other products.
Drive the Great River Road
You will know you are on the Great River Road when you see the steamboat pilot wheel signs in green and white along with the road signs.
The Great River Road is a National Scenic Byway which follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
I should say that it follows the course of the Mississippi River as closely as it can. The levee system in Arkansas keeps the river from being visible along the road through much of the state.
The Great River Road goes right through WIlson, Arkansas.
If you are traveling the Great River Road National Scenic Byway then Wilson is definitely a place you should stop.
Even if you aren’t traveling the road it might be worthwhile to drive on it for a few miles in either direction outside of Wilson to see the agricultural landscape, how the river has changed, and perhaps learn a little bit about the history and musical heritage of the area.
The Future of Wilson, Arkansas
At Wilson they pride themselves on being a small town with a storied past and an exciting future.
I don’t know what the future of the town holds, but I do believe that it is a town to watch!
Thanks for stopping by!