by Randy Townzen
The rain earlier this week was most welcome, thankfully adding a little water to the low levels of area creeks, lakes and ponds. Throughout our history, as an agricultural community, the amount of rainfall could mean a prosperous or failed year. Also, good drinking water was the first concern when trying to establish a home or business. Bentonville has always boasted about its good water, but as the town grew, it often struggled keeping up with the demand.
Originally, springs supplied the town's residents and merchants with fresh clean water, carried by hand for drinking and washing. Then later, shallow wells were dug, including a hand pump and horse trough in the town square. But it became clear by the 1940's that the city needed a major project to provide an adequate, dependable water supply to its growing population.
In 1949, the first large volume water line was laid from Spring Valley, about 3 miles east of town to a brand new water tower and concrete reservoir, just northeast of the "J" street and Hwy 72 junction. The valley had a continuous flow from many springs that fed into Little Sugar Creek, so a modern pump station was built with a filter and chlorine treatment system. The line was an impressive 8" pipe that had to cross Highway 72 twice, through valleys and over hills on its westward route. Even more impressive was the fact that the ditch was dug with a single piece of excavating equipment and a crew of men with hand shovels. I wish I had space to list the names and stories of that crew of just 8 men. Though the water may have occasionally looked a little muddy or tasted a little strong with chlorine, Bentonville was very proud of the accomplishment. When finished, the mayor, Jim Knott, boasted that the City of Bentonville would never be without adequate water again.
Unfortunately that water line was not the answer to Bentonville's growing water needs. In just four short years, the city needed to add a water line from Ford Springs, north of town, and a new "water plant" on NW "A" street. Then in 1959, the Beaver Water District was formed and Bentonville wisely bonded with four other cities to supply us for years to come with clean, abundant water from the future Beaver Lake.
That first water tower stood as a tornado and fallout shelter many years after it was emptied of water, then finally torn down. Its concrete base can still be seen not too far from Crystal Bridges Museum. Ford Springs is still there, in ruins, just south of County Hwy 40, and that "A" street "water plant" is now a Head Start education facility.
I am always impressed with the foresight it took to improve the quality of life in our home town, and always thankful for those who loved it, and worked so hard to make good things happen for it.
Today, I am also thankful for a little rain.
Thank you Carl Mayhall for this personal hands on story.