A Short History of War Eagle Weekend
For many people, annual trips to War Eagle Weekend are a longstanding tradition. Each October, more than a hundred thousand people converge on the War Eagle River Valley to browse tents full to the brim of arts and crafts, nibble on turkey legs and funnel cakes, and catch up with old friends. Many visitors do not realize that they are taking in three separate craft fairs when they visit the War Eagle River Valley.
The first craft fair was held in War Eagle, Arkansas, more than sixty years ago in the fall of 1954. It was the brainchild of Blanche Elliott. Blanche wanted to give traditional artists and crafters of the Ozarks Mountain region, including members of a local weaving guild, a place to display and sell their wares. So, in October 1954, she and a few other folks in the War Eagle area opened their living rooms to host the first War Eagle Fair. This first fair drew in just over 2,220 visitors. However, in a very short time, the number of visitors swelled from a trickle to a steady flow of tens of thousands each year. The Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair Association, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1957 to govern and guide the War Eagle Fair. A spring show featuring arts and crafts as well as antiques was added in 1962 and enjoyed a great deal of success as well. The spring show never surpassed the original fall show in popularity or size, however, and was last held in 2006.
The War Eagle River Valley is a picturesque setting for a fall craft fair. Many people enjoy sitting by the river and taking in the beautiful scenery, including the War Eagle Mill. A working gristmill has been a part of War Eagle history since Sylvanus Blackburn settled the valley in the 1830s. Several mills have been built over the span of time, but they frequently succumbed to flooding and fires. In 1973, the War Eagle Mill, as it exists today, was rebuilt by the Medlin family. Shortly after, the War Eagle Mill hosted their first craft fair. Held at the same time as the War Eagle Fair, this new show filled parts of the Mill and their parking area with arts and crafts. A local couple, Billy and Lucy Sharp, offered parking in their field adjacent to the Mill area. Within a few years, the Sharps had also begun their own craft fair, the Sharp’s Show of War Eagle. The Sharp’s Show is held in the field area adjacent to the Mill.
Throughout the years, the success of the War Eagle Fair has encouraged others to start fairs as well. This growth and continued success has given Northwest Arkansas “War Eagle Weekend,” which today includes not only the original War Eagle Fair, the War Eagle Mill Fall Craft Fair, and the Sharp’s Show, but many others held throughout Northwest Arkansas during the same weekend each October.