History of the Museum
In 1976, a group of individuals, inspired by the nation's Bicentennial historical celebrations, met and formed the Bella Vista Historical Society as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. These residents, all of whom had moved to Bella Vista from other locations, were determined to create a local historical museum, even though they personally had no local history ties to this area. They began a variety of fundraising efforts in 1977 toward that end.
In 1983, Cooper Communities agreed to provide a site along Highway 71 for a museum in return for a small annual lease payment. The volunteers put a pre-manufactured building on a block foundation at that site in 1984, with the first meeting being held in the building that October. A formal Grand Opening was held in April, 1985. The Historical Society raised enough money to burn the museum’s mortgage by 1990. In 2000, Cooper donated the site to the Society with a reversionary deed, and then in 2002 Cooper executed a quit claim deed, giving the Society full ownership of the property.
All of the museum's exhibits were initially focused on the Linebarger Brothers, the 1917 founders of the Lake Bella Vista Summer Resort, and whose artifact collection was graciously donated by the Linebargers’ three granddaughters. Gradually other exhibits began to be added, too.
Eventually it was decided more space was needed. The first addition was completed in 1995 and used primarily as a meeting room. In 2013, with the receipt of several large display cabinets left over from the Walmart Museum remodeling, it was decided to group the museum’s exhibits into two eras. The original exhibit space became the Linebarger Room focused primarily on the 1915-1964 timeframe, the 1995 addition became the Cooper Room with exhibits covering the years 1965 to present and the center space was reserved for programs and meetings. A second addition was completed in 2015, dedicated to Carole Linebarger Harter, a Linebarger granddaughter who had worked very hard to keep the museum going during its many lean years. That addition also features an exhibit about E.L. Keith, who purchased Bella Vista from the Linebargers in 1952 and sold it to Cooper in 1963.
In 2018, Scott and Angie Butler offered the museum an old log cabin that was sitting in their back yard near Lake Avalon. After an extensive fund raising campaign, the cabin, now named the Settler’s Cabin, was moved to the museum property in March, 2019. It was determined that the cabin was originally built in 1912 in what is now the Highlands area and moved in 1974 to the Lake Avalon area.
The hard work of all of the museum’s dedicated volunteers, along with support from a number of organizations and residents, has enabled the museum to not only survive but to thrive. Two local chapters of Questers became involved in the 2010-2012 time frame and their efforts in creating new exhibits started a renaissance for the museum. The City of Bella Vista began providing financial help in 2013 and the Bella Vista Property Owners Association and others have provided much needed services. Grants and donations from other sources, including those from Cooper Communities and Cooper family members, have also assisted immensely.
Today, the Bella Vista Museum is 3,000 square feet in size, with displays that cover all time periods, including the Native Americans, the early settlers, the farming community, the summer resort at Lake Bella Vista, the retirement village built by Cooper, and the current City of Bella Vista. It is open 20 hours per week, and starting in 2016, twelve months per year. The museum is an amazing showcase of Bella Vista's rich history and one of which the entire community can be very proud!