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Electricity comes to rural Benton County in 1939

by XYTA LUCAS SPECIAL TO NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 24, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

BELLA VISTA — “The biggest Benton County party held in a decade” was the way in which was described the celebration that was held in Bella Vista on July 28, 1939, to recognize the first 50 miles of rural electric lines completed.

The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) project consisted of a total of 309 miles for the county. The celebration was billed as the “Light of Progress” festival.

The day started with a cooking school demonstration at the pavilion, followed by the annual picnic of the Farm Bureau and County Council of home demonstration clubs. At 1:30 p.m., a band concert was held that included bands from throughout the county.

Featured that day were exhibits of various electrical appliances dealers and merchants in the county. They were set up on the first floor of the dance pavilion at the northeast corner of Lake Bella Vista.

At 2:15 p.m., a farm and home forum of the Farm Bureau and home demonstration clubs began. A speaker’s stand was set up near the pavilion with seats for 1,500 audience members. The speakers included W. Fred Jordan, the regional utilization engineer for the REA.

Sixteen-year-old Dorothy Jean Blevins of the Oak Hill community had been named as the Queen of Light at a party held the previous week. At 4:30 p.m. on the day of the festival, a swimming party and picnic dinner was held for the Queen and her eleven Princesses of Light at Park Springs in Bentonville. The princesses represented the communities of War Eagle, New Home, Minervian, Pleasant Hill, Silent Grove, Decatur, Hiwasse, Evening Star, Highfill, Garfield and Gentry. Following their party, they were escorted to the Sunset Hotel in Bella Vista.

At 6:30 p.m., a dinner was held at the Sunset Hotel honoring Floyd Sharp, who was the Arkansas director of the Works Progress Administration, a federal program that was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda to employ millions of job seekers in public works projects.

The queen was crowned at 8 p.m. Following her crowning, she threw the switch that flooded over 100 homes for the first time with electric light.

The highlight of the festival was the pageant that began at 8:30 p.m. The home demonstration clubs in each community throughout the county directed and planned the scenes of the pageant. Thirteen scenes depicted the progress in lighting starting with the caveman and his torch, right up to 1939.

Following the pageant, the Queen’s Ball was held at the dance pavilion to honor Queen Dorothy and her Princesses.

The Autumn 1987 issue of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, published by the Arkansas Historical Association, included a detailed 45-page article about the REA project, titled “Rural Electrification in Arkansas, 1935-1940: The Formative Years.” That issue is available for browsing at the Bella Vista Historical Museum. The museum is located at 1885 Bella Vista Way, near the intersection of Highway 71 and Kingsland. Visitors are welcome from 1 to 5 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

(Information for this article came from 1939 issues of the Bella Vista Breezes, published by the Linebarger Brothers, owners of the Bella Vista Summer Resort at Lake Bella Vista from 1917 to 1952.)

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