MOUNTAIN VIEW – Rarely, if ever, does the New York Times mention a small town in Arkansas – let alone mention it in the same breath as a metropolis like Chicago or Seattle. But Mountain View earned that accolade nine days ago.
In a special 48-page tabloid section titled “Meet Me Downtown,” the Stone County seat (population 2,800) received five cover pages embellished with six large photographs. The folk music center was featured alongside nine other US cities, eight of which are large enough to be classified as metropolitan areas. The Mountain View segment was titled “We Kept Our Charm”.
The story caught my attention in part because my wife Marcia and I have spent several enjoyable days in Mountain View over the past decade while researching our weekly reports of natural state attractions and activities. It was written by Rick Rojas, an Atlanta-based New York Times reporter covering the South.
“In the cafes and small shops that surround the Mountain View, Ark., courthouse,” Rojas began, “residents have found it increasingly common to meet new neighbors ‘from afar.'” In local parlance from the place, “from off” is a label for people who come from the mountains.”
One such newcomer is Roni Willson, who came from Nebraska with her husband about a year ago. She told Rojas, “We asked God to lead us to the land where we were meant to be, and we ended up in Mountain View.”
Also cited were a couple from Mississippi who “reinvigorated the formerly closed Inn at Mountain View just off the town square,” as well as a couple from San Antonio who “opened the only donut shop in the city.” town”. The president of the local Folklore Society salutes from Baton Rouge, La.”
Rojas included local alumni “like Erwin York, who is anything but ‘from the outside’. Mr. York, 97, lives on the land he was born in. He knows in his bones the magnetism of the place. Well that he lived in California for 38 years, “I always said when I retired, I would come home,” he said – and he did, some 40 years ago. “
History identified downtown Mountain View as “the blocks around the old Stone County Courthouse, where the streets are dotted with a cafe serving up country staples and a new venue offering Mexican food; stores selling wooden furniture; and parks where musicians congregate for impromptu jam sessions (There are no bars, however; Stone County, like near the half of the counties of Arkansas, is dry.)”
Rojas noted that Mountain View and surrounding areas have been financially battered by the covid pandemic. But on the late August weekend he visited, “hundreds of motorbikes came to town for a rally. The dance hall just off the square was filling up again on the weekends, with crowds down to about half of what they were before the pandemic.”
Mountain View “isn’t for everyone,” the story observed. “Slowing down can be a tough adjustment. ‘We have friends who are all, ‘There’s no Chick-fil-A,'” Kevin Goggans said. He and his wife, Cheri, purchased and now operate the Inn at Mountain View. , a bed and breakfast where musicians will play nonchalantly in the living room after a show at Club Possum, then return for homemade waffles and syrup in the morning.”
Pam Setser, a singer and songwriter who grew up in the area, reportedly said, “I feel like we’ve kept our charm”, while “trying to do more things to make it a bit more charming”. She added that many newcomers to the city are determined to protect its distinctiveness because “they love and want to be part of Mountain View.”
The Arkansans may notice a key fact missing from the New York Times story: it even fails to mention the city’s most prominent tourist attraction, the Ozark Folk Center State Park. The Folk Center is a prime location for the annual Arkansas Folk Festival, already scheduled for April 21-22, 2023.