Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, Compton Gardens and Convention Center is a 6.5-acre public park and special events venue owned and operated by the Peel Compton Foundation, serving as a community woodland garden oasis available for private event booking. Born on August 1, 1912 in Bentonville to Ida Wilmoth and David Compton, Neil Ernest Compton was a noted Arkansas physician, author, and environmentalist.
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After receiving dual undergraduate degrees in zoology and biology from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and earning a doctorate in medicine from the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, Compton worked with the Arkansas State Board of Health, holding a residency at Little Rock’s St. Vincent Infirmary as a doctor of obstetrics. During World War II, Compton worked with the United States Naval Reserve’s Medical Corps, which led to several decades of service in the Navy’s Ready Reserve. An avid hiker and naturalist, Compton became involved in the 1960s public debate regarding the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed plan to impede the Buffalo River with dams, which led to his founding of the Ozark Society to Save the Buffalo River in 1962. As a result of the Ozark Society’s campaigning, the dam project was scrapped and the Buffalo River was declared a National River, overseen by the National Park Service, by President Richard Nixon in 1972. In homage to his environmental lobbying, he was appointed as an honorary National Park Ranger in 1987, and the legacy of his conservation work continues today through the work of the Ozark Society’s chapters in Arkansas and Louisiana.
In the 1960s, Compton opened a native plant nursery, called Crystal Spring Gardens, on land he owned near the downtown Bentonville area and Crystal Spring creek. The land was sold to the Walton family in 1978 and incorporated into the grounds and gardens of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which retained some of the original features of Compton’s plant cultivation. In May 2005, Compton’s family home and personal garden at the site were converted into a conference center and special event venue, connected to the Crystal Bridges complex via a landscaped trail. Throughout the 2010s, the Crystal Bridges facility has worked to recover many of Compton’s rock planting beds on the land and return them to their original native plant cultivation usage.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
Today, Compton Gardens and Conference Center is owned and operated by the Peel Compton Foundation, which also owns the nearby Peel Mansion, the 1875 historic home of Colonel Samuel West Peel that is operated as a living history museum. Following Compton’s horticultural style, the 6.5-acre grounds have been developed as a native woodland garden area with paved pathways and landscaped flower sections, which functions as a public park facility for the citizens of Bentonville. A number of small exhibits inside the conference center and on the park’s grounds chronicle the life and career achievements of Compton and the lasting impacts of his environmental activism, also offering information about the native Ozark plants that are found in the garden. A bridge connects the garden facility to the Crystal Bridges Trail system, which provides access to more than 120 acres of native Ozark forest, springs, and streams.
Two rooms at the Conference Center are available for private rental for weddings, business conferences, and other special events. A Garden Room features floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Gardens’ grounds and seats up to 75 people at banquet tables or 80 people with theater-style seating. An outdoor patio accessible off of the Garden Room may accommodate an additional 50 event attendees. A state-of-the-art Conference Room is equipped with a slide projector and seats 16 around a large conference table or 30 with theater-style seating. A small kitchen facility, lounge, and coffee bar are provided for event food preparation and attendee gathering.
Ongoing Programs and Events
In addition to private event rentals, several annual public events are held at the facility, including an annual Spring Native Tree and Plant Sale in April. Plants for sale include the Missouri primrose, Ozark witch hazel, southern magnolia, and seedlings for loblolly pine, bald cypress, and white ash trees. Other events include the Gardens on Tap beer tasting event and happy hour series and the annual Dr. Compton Celebration, an August festival that commemorates the life and work of Compton with family-friendly nature activities.
Event rental space is also offered by the nearby Peel Mansion and Heritage Gardens facility, which also offers regular guided tours of the Civil-War-era mansion for small groups and organizations. A museum store at the Mansion is housed inside a pre-Civil-War cabin on the grounds, offering handcrafted goods by local artisans. Several annual events are presented at the mansion by the Peel Compton Foundation, including a Christmas Gala and Open House in December.
312 N Main St, Bentonville, AR 72712, Phone: 479-254-3870