by Joe David Ricc
Not many Ozark communities can claim that slaves named the town. That's just one way that Mountain Home is unique among Arkansas cities. The first white pioneers moved into the region around today's Mountain Home well over 200 years ago. Maps of early Arkansas from that era show a village known as Rapp's Barren, most likely to recognize Henry Rapp, the original settler. As for the term "barren," it indicated a prairie-like setting with few trees. That name went by the wayside in 1857, to be replaced by Mountain Home when a post office was established. The change can be traced back to 30 slaves who worked on two plantations owned by Col. Orrin Dodd, one in Rapp's Barren and the other far to the south in Augusta. Some of them had taken to calling Dodd's Ozark estate "My Sweet Mountain Home," and the name caught on. That's the legend, at least, and the town's been known as Mountain Home for well over 150 years now.
Located in north-central Arkansas, a dozen or so miles below the Missouri border, Mountain Home remained a quiet little hamlet until the 1940s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of two major dams in the area. One was on the east side of town on the North Fork River, creating Lake Norfork, and the other was to the west on the White River, impounding Bull Shoals Lake. President Harry Truman came to Mountain Home on July 2, 1952, to dedicate this pair of massive public works projects. Together, the two lakes offer some 67,440 acres of open water and 1,500 miles of rocky shoreline. Primarily built for flood control and power generation, the reservoirs soon became meccas for tourists - and Mountain Home began its transformation. Scores of small fishing resorts and ancillary businesses sprang up around the lakes to serve the influx of visitors.
However, the federal government wasn't finished with its construction. In 1955, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened the Norfork National Fish Hatchery, built to offset the loss of native riparian habitat, at the base of Norfork Dam. The country's largest hatchery, it produces thousands upon thousands of rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout for release in the cold tailwaters below the two dams (and others) and is the foundation for what's grown to be nearly a $100 million a year trout fishing industry in the greater Mountain Home area. The most popular tourist attraction in Baxter County, the hatchery (1414 Highway 177 South) hosts some 250,000 visitors a year.