Compton Gardens and Conference Center are named after Dr. Neil Compton, a noted Bentonville physician, writer, photographer, founder of the Ozark Society, and most importantly, the savior of our country’s first national river, the Buffalo.
He was born on August 1, 1912, the son of David Compton and Ida Wilmoth. He attended Bentonville public schools, and in 1935 completed degrees in zoology and geology at the University of Arkansas. He married Laurene Putman in 1935 and had three children. He enrolled at the UAMS in Little Rock, graduating in 1939.
His first job after completing medical school was as a county health officer in Washington and Bradley counties. He served in US Navy’s medical corps during WWII, where he was stationed in Guadalcanal. After the war he returned to Benton County, where he opened a practice in gynecology and obstetrics.
Compton possessed a lifelong passion for exploring and photographing the outdoors. He especially loved the Buffalo River basin area in the Ozark region in northwest Arkansas. But in 1956, the basin was threatened with destruction when the US Army Corps of Engineers renewed plans to build dams on the Buffalo River at Gilbert and Lone Rock. Protests by conservationists and fishermen resulted in a survey team from the National Park Service in October 1961 to determine if the river warranted protection as part of the National Park System.
In May 1962 Harold and Margaret Hedges of the Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club of Kansas City, MO, arranged for US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a noted conservationist, to float the Buffalo River. Following the float, resulted in the Ozark Society, Save the Buffalo River Inc, being formed on May 24, 1962 and Compton was elected its first president.
The Ozark Society launched a campaign to prevent the damming of the river which included appealing to elected officials, inviting journalists on float trips, and river cleanups. The campaign realized success when Congress passed legislation which was signed by President Richard Nixon on March 1, 1972 to create the Buffalo National River. The legislation gave the river the unique designation of the nation’s first national river.
His activities as a leading citizen and conservationist earned him numerous accolades. In 1963 he received the American Motors Corporation Conservation Award. The University of Arkansas awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1986 and in 1987 the National Park Service named him an honorary park ranger. In 1990 he received the first annual Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award awarded by Congress. In 1998, a year before his death, he received the Ageless Hero Award for Community Service.
In May 2005, the Compton Gardens and Conference Center were formally dedicated with the Center available for events of all types and the eventual trail system being a free and open green space available to all.