Putting Pine Bluff, Ark., on the map for tourists

July 18, 1993|By Jean Simmons | Jean Simmons,Dallas Morning News

PINE BLUFF, ARK. — Pine Bluff, Ark.--When one thinks of an Arkansas tourist destination, this small city on the bank of the Arkansas River hardly comes to mind. It's not in the scenic Ozarks, nor in the Ouachitas. It's not on a main route to anywhere.

Nor has it figured prominently in the life of a president.

So who goes to Pine Bluff and why?

Good questions, I'd say.

Not enough tourists, they say, as the powers-that-be go about creating a new image for Arkansas' fourth largest town (population, 54,734).

Arkansas' City of Murals is the goal.

What motivated me was an intriguing marketing letter about a bed-and-breakfast inn named Margland II, III and IV, a complex of three historic homes. The missive went on to say that the B&B consists of 17 rooms, all with private bath, and such amenities as Jacuzzis, a swimming pool and an exercise room, not to mention VCRs and cable television. Conveniences include a complete telephone system with fax and conference rooms for all kinds of meetings.

All this at a B&B in Pine Bluff?

You bet.

It was a nice sunny morning when we stepped out onto the brick terrace behind Margland II for breakfast. A small round table had been laid with a pretty printed cloth and matching napkins and centered by fresh flowers; a fountain gurgled nearby. A server brought fresh orange juice, the first item of our breakfast order that we had written on a provided slip of paper the night before and hung on our door.

Guests are given carte blanche to request what they would like for breakfast, and the innkeepers promise to do their best to follow through. We asked for strawberries or bananas and got both. We asked for scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage and got them. We asked for toast or biscuits and got both -- so it went.

The next morning was on the damp side, calling for breakfast in the large, elegant dining room. This time we had requested hot cakes -- as good as any we could recall. (Coffee had been brought to our door earlier as requested, nicely laid out on a tray with cloth napkins and silverware.)

Margland (pronounced with a soft g) is an eclectic facility loaded with fine antiques and collectibles, but also including three contemporary suites with circular stairways leading to bedroom lofts. Other rooms have varied decor -- French, wicker, country and more; there's even a duck room. Twin, double and queen beds are available variously in the three buildings. Sitting areas, plenty of lamps, sprinkler systems, and efficient bathroom fixtures and temperature controls add to guests' comfort and ease.

Margland II (the original Margland was at another place, in another time) was the first house to be bought by Wanda Bateman and her husband, Ed Thompson, in 1985. The following year the property received the Historic Preservation Award for Arkansas.

Both innkeepers are heavily involved in Pine Bluff civic affairs and volunteer work -- busy, busy people. Ms. Bateman has a real-estate business and a consignment shop. She is a decorator, and she has served on the vestry of the landmark Trinity Episcopal Church. Generally known as "the hat lady," she's seldom seen without a fanciful creation atop her blond locks. Mr. Thompson heads a moving company.

Painted a light rose color with a green shingled roof, Margland II is on the corner, and it serves as the main inn. It's wheelchair-friendly with a ramp and elevator. Of Dutch colonial architecture, the house dates to 1903 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Next door is Margland III, a former duplex built in 1895, followed by Margland IV, which dates from 1905.

The brick connection

Landscaping is wonderful, with a jillion antique bricks connecting the three properties in the back by terraces, walls, walkways and swimming-pool decks. Tables and chairs of either black wrought iron or lacy white cast iron grace the terraces. A pretty gazebo provides a focal point for many weddings.

Lunch or dinner is served for eight or more persons on request, and many sizable tour groups arrange to enjoy a gourmet meal prepared and served by the staff. The inn also has a large business clientele in addition to attracting seminars, family reunions and other gatherings.

It would be hard to describe the city of Pine Bluff as pretty, what with railroad tracks running smack through the center of town and intersecting Main Street. But train buffs probably would term it picturesque.

And it does have its bright spots, such as the Convention Center, which is the largest meeting facility in the state, the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, numerous interesting old homes, Lake Pine Bluff on the northern edge of

downtown, and 17 public parks and playgrounds.

History in pictures

An organization called the Main Effort is currently reviving downtown, particularly through a series of 22 murals illustrating various facets of the city's history.

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