Arkansas Food Hall of Fame inductee Kream Kastle has served its famous barbecue since 1952. Photo by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Category: Worth the Drive

Blytheville Facts

  • Incorporated: 1892
  • Population: 12,433
  • Size: 20.7 square miles
  • Elevation: 259 feet

Visiting a hub for history, barbecue and holiday cheer

More than 6 million bulbs will glow through Dec. 27 at Blytheville’s Lights of the Delta. Touted as “the Mid-South’s largest holiday lighting festival,” it takes visitors past 56 colorful displays arrayed over 40 acres.

Lights of the Delta is the Mid-South’s largest holiday light festival. Photo by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

The Christmas show is a yearly extravaganza in Blytheville, the location of Mississippi County Electric Cooperative’s headquarters. The city, just south of the Missouri Bootheel, is located in Arkansas’ top cotton-producing county. It has become a center of steel production since 1990.

Arrival of the steel industry eased the economic stress caused by the closing in 1992 of Eaker Air Force Base. That facility had employed as many as 4,200 military and civilian personnel as a major site for Strategic Air Command B-52 bombers during the Cold War. The periphery of Eaker, now known as Blytheville Air Force Base (BAFB), is the setting for Lights of the Delta.

The after-dark drive proceeds past the displays, many of them animated. At midpoint of the mile-and-a-half route, motorists can stop at Jingle Bell Park, where refreshments and souvenirs are sold. Tractor-pulled hayrides start every half-hour. Santa Claus stops by each Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. For opening times, admission fees and other details, see website.

An absorbing preview exhibit at the base sets the stage for what is hoped will someday be a nationwide attraction. The BAFB Exhibition focuses on the specter of nuclear and thermonuclear war from the late 1940s until the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991. One of the five galleries shows illustrations of the ambitious Cold War Center, projected to open as early as 2027.

The museum’s board of directors is chaired by Mary Gay Shipley, who operated Blytheville’s legendary That Book Store, which closed a few years after she sold it in 2012. A loyal former customer, Erin Langston Carrington, operates Blytheville Book Company, 429 W. Main St.

At 210 W. Main St., Delta Gateway Museum spans regional topics as far back as prehistoric cultures. Among its cornucopia of objects is a Depression Era sign touting Blytheville as host of the once-upon-a-time National Cotton Picking Championship.

Historic Greyhound Bus Depot, 109 N. Fifth St., has been restored to evoke the heyday of intercity bus travel in the 1930s and ’40s.


Opened more than a century ago, The Ritz Civic Center now hosts theatrical productions. Photo by Marcia Schnedler.

Ritz Civic Center, 306 W. Main St., opened more than a century ago as a setting for vaudeville shows. It now hosts musical and stage productions, as well as the screening of classic movies.

Thunder Bayou Golf Links, 1239 Perimeter Road, is one of 14 courses on the Arkansas Golf Trail. Ranked as one of the top public courses in the state, it challenges players with water hazards on seven holes and more than 80 sand bunkers.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas cites Blytheville as the “barbecue capital of Arkansas.” A favorite spot is Dixie Pig, 701 N. Sixth St., which traces a century-long heritage. Its signature offering, which loyal customers call “the pig sandwich,” tops finely chopped pork with chopped cabbage and a nearly clear sauce of vinegar and spices.

Arkansas Food Hall of Fame inductee Kream Kastle has served its famous barbecue since 1952. Photo by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Also enjoying decades of barbecue popularity is Kream Kastle, 112 N. Division St. (no website; call (870) 762-2366), opened in 1952 by a son of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. Damaged by fire in March 2022, Kream Kastle reopened this January. In March, it was inducted into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame — an example of the resiliency that has sustained Blytheville through economic and other challenges.

For more information on Blytheville attractions.