A Victorian enclave in the midst of the Ozarks?
YES! And it is a visual stunner! The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places!
The history of this charming town began with tribes who spoke of a “Great Healing Spring” in the vicinity.* Indeed, in the middle of town, you’ll still find Basin Springs Park. By the 1870s, people were coming to the springs to heal various ailments.The power of the healing waters became famous and Eureka Springs was born in 1879.
According to Eurekasprings.com, a white man by the name of Alvah Jackson found the Basin Spring in 1856. When the Civil War broke out, he started what was called, “Dr. Jackson’s Cave Hospital” for injured soldiers. After the war, he sold bottles of healing water called, “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water” (since he claimed that the spring water healed his son’s eye condition.)*
Dr. Jackson told a friend about the healing waters in 1879 to help the friend’s leg condition. That friend, Judge Saunders, built the first cabin in Eureka Springs, and used the spring as a location for a summer retreat. By the end of July that year, there were twelve structures close to the springs along with many tents and wagons. By mid-August, the population had grown to approximately 300. By the end of that year, 10,000 people lived in Eureka Springs.**
The fame of the town grew, and was soon known as a “healing resort.” More than 60 additional springs were discovered in the area and investors and the railroad took note.
A “Eureka Springs Improvement Company” was formed by then governor, Powell Clayton, to promote the town and secure investors. The years of 1880-1890 heralded the heyday of Eureka Springs. Eureka Springs became known as a health center and a place for wealthy people to retire.
The development and the economy of Eureka Springs centered on the various “healing” springs. The most expensive land was that closest to the healing waters. Even today, some of the fancier homes are downtown close to the springs while Victorian cottages and smaller homes cling to the cliffs above the town.
Tourists arrived in huge numbers. Those with afflictions crowded hotels, saloons, bathhouses, dry goods stores, groceries and liveries.**
The Improvement Company planned a Eureka Springs Railroad which was completed in 1882. The railroad terminal became a center for commercial and resort business due to its location in this remote portion of Arkansas. The economy boomed after completion of a stop connecting the St. Louis and San Francisco routes.
LIFE AS A RESORT
As the turn of the century approached, a more sophisticated approach to medicine meant that people no longer believed as much in healing waters. The railroad also moved the St. Louis and North Arkansas lines to another town which meant the commercial influence of Eureka Springs declined.
In 1905, The Ozarks Water Company was formed. In fact, Carrie Nation moved to Eureka Springs late in her life, founding Hatchett Hall on Steele Street.*** Hatchett Hall was used as a museum for a time but is now closed.
In the 1920s, the advent of the car and touring gave Eureka Springs as a resort, a reprieve. The Great Depression and several fires which destroyed the wooden structures in town cemented its fate.
THE CRESCENT HOTEL
Truly, the crown jewel of Eureka Springs is the Crescent Hotel perched high above town. The hotel was built beginning in 1884, as a partnership of the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad. It was considered one of America’s most luxurious hotels when built.
Designed by architect, Isaac S. Taylor, known for his work on the St. Louis World’s Fair buildings, the five stories of the hotel are stone masonry. Stonemasons were brought from Ireland to construct the hotel. It was furnished with the latest Edison lamps and electric bells and featured a Waring sewage system and steam heat through open grates.****
The local newspaper (The Eureka Springs Times Echo-May 20, 1886) said of the opening banquet for 400 people:****
Tonight’s gala ball will find in attendance many of the leaders in business and society. As guest of honor, the Honorable James G. Blaine, the Republican presidential nominee, will attend with his charming wife Laura.
The hotel was built with the political elite in mind from its beginning. In 1950, Senator Dale Bumpers spent his honeymoon at the hotel. (note: so did this author)
In 1908, the Crescent Hotel found itself in financial trouble. It was reopened as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. The Conservatory closed in 1924 and the Crescent was abandoned.
A new owner in 1937 turned the hotel into a hospital and health resort. He had no medical credentials despite stating he could cure cancer among other ailments. He committed atrocious acts of “medicine” on patients. He was reported to the local police by townspeople. After a multi-day standoff with police and the FBI, he was imprisoned for fraud.*****
Furious local people trashed the hotel, destroyed records and attempted to burn down the Crescent.
No new owners came forward until 1946. A couple bought the Crescent in 1997 and completed an expensive and extensive 6-year restoration.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN EUREKA SPRINGS
Eureka Springs Historic District: There is little parking in Eureka Springs, so we recommend finding street parking and walking the steep narrow streets. Those with walking issues or in wheelchairs will have a very difficult time due to the hills and uneven pavement on sidewalks. The good news is that the buildings are very close to the street for a great view from your car. The main streets form a loop so even though you may feel lost, you will find your way back to your starting point.
Countless art galleries, specialty shops and boutiques are located downtown. There is a wide variety of places to eat.
BASIN SPRING PARK: Take a break and see the spring that started it all in the middle of downtown. During the busy season, free concerts are held each evening from 5-7 p.m. There are benches for watching shoppers and tourists. Don’t forget to go to the top of the park. There are stairs that lead to a gazebo and from the gazebo are more stairs that lead to a short trail overlooking the city.
ST. ELIZABETH’S Catholic Church: St. Elizabeth’s sits downhill from the Crescent Hotel and is one of the loveliest buildings in Eureka Springs. The congregation of the church began in 1880. You need not attend services to treasure its quiet beauty, reminiscent of European churches. The walkway leading to the church is lined with the Stations of the Cross and a small garden is on the side of the building. You can hearing the sweet sounds of the bell tower all over town. 30 Crescent Drive, Eureka Springs, Ark. http://stelizabethar.org/
THE CRESCENT HOTEL: Even if you don’t stay there, go to the Crescent Hotel just to look around. This 130 -year old hotel has historical documents to peruse on the 4th floor and a view of the surrounding hills. There is an elegant dining room off the lobby. 75 Prospect Avenue, Eureka Springs, Ark. https://www.crescent-hotel.com
DRIVE AROUND THE HILLS OF TOWN: Eureka Springs has Victorian homes, businesses and cottages everywhere! There are gorgeous examples of Victorian architecture along every street (some buildings restored and some not). Follow the winding narrow roads where they take you. You’ll see eccentric cottages literally hanging off the cliffs.
ONYX CAVE: There are lots of caves around Eureka Springs. Onyx Cave is not physically demanding and is small-perfect for all ages and physical abilities. The cave self-tour takes about 30 minutes. This is a simple cave and receives mixed reviews from people. If you like caves, you’ll enjoy it. 338 Onyx Cave Lane, Eureka Springs, Ark. Admission is $10 (2019) http://onyxcaveeurekasprings.com/
THORNCROWN CHAPEL: This chapel in the woods is 48-feet tall with floor-to-ceiling windows (428 of them) and 6,000 square feet of glass. Architect E. Fay Jones makes you feel as if you are worshipping in nature. It is a simply stunning structure. There are, of course, services between April and December each year. 12969 Highway 62 West, Eureka Springs, Ark. http://www.thorncrown.com/
THE GREAT PASSION PLAY and CHRIST OF THE OZARKS: The play is performed in an outdoor amphitheater and is an account of the last seven days of Jesus of Nazareth. You can see the immense monument called, “Christ of the Ozarks” from almost anywhere close to Eureka Springs. 935 Passion Play Road, Eureka Springs, Ark. http://www.greatpassionplay.org/
TURPENTINE CREEK WILDLIFE REFUGE: You wouldn’t expect it in the Ozarks, but Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is home to abandoned, abused and neglected tigers, lions, leopards and cougars. There are other animals there as well. There are daily guided habitat tours and behind-the-scenes tours on weekends. 239 Turpentine Creek Lane, Eureka Springs, Ark. General Admission starts at $10
There is so much more to do! We could fill a small book! There is great fishing, white water rafting and boating on Beaver Lake, Lake Leatherwood, the White River, Kings River, Roaring River, and Table Rock Lake.
WHERE TO STAY
There are more than 20,000 places to stay in and near little Eureka Springs! There are Bed and Breakfasts, historic hotels, honeymoon cabins, hotel chains, air b&bs, and vacation rentals. The best approach is to do research online, depending on what type accommodation you want.
We want to highlight four tours. There are many more, however. Just google, “tours in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.”
We suggest trying Joe Grunnel’s 90-minute Tram Tour which meanders the beautiful streets, stops at the Crescent Hotel and Grotto Springs. Note that the trams are open air. This is a great way to get an overview of town and also rest your feet! 137 W Van Buren. (479-253-6852) Tours depart at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 plus tax for adults and $7 plus tax for children ages 4-11. https://eurekaspringstramtours.com
Haunted Eureka Springs Tours has free parking at their door after 6 pm. and is a 90-minute shuttle van tour. The van is enclosed but the tour requires sitting, standing and walking. $24.50 for adults, $19.50 for those under age 18. They also offer a downtown walking ghost tour for $14.50 and a Catacomb Ghost Hunt for $10.
Quigley’s Castle: This tour visits a unique and strange rock house with an extensive history. 274 Quigley Castle Road. (479) 253-8311. April through October 31: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Sundays and Thursdays. Call for times from March and November. $7 for adults and free for children 14 and under when with parent. Quigley’s Castle is NOT handicap accessible. There is an uneven path and stair climbing.
Eureka Springs Underground Tour: This tour uses historical figures to take you to unknown and relatively unvisited places in Eureka Springs. Tour times are Monday-Sunday at 4 p.m. $13.50 per person with children 16 and under free. Meet at Basin Spring Park by the kiosk. Meet 10 minutes prior to tour time. Purchase tickets at the front desk of the Basin Park Hotel or at the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce. NO tickets are sold at the kiosk. You must be able to walk up and down stairs and on uneven walking surfaces for 75 minutes.
HOW TO GET AROUND
DRIVING: If you drive, it is best to find a street parking spot and walk around the downtown. Parking lots are almost non-existent. Be prepared to walk on uneven sidewalk pavement and up and down steep hills.
TRANSIT TROLLEY: There is a Eureka Springs Trolley. As specified on the Trolley website, the schedule is below. See the website for fares and other information.
|Please note: After 6:00pm Saturday, Hwy. 62 East will be serviced by a Blue/Yellow combination route that will serve Passion Play Road by request only and return to the Downtown Depot via Hwy. 62 westbound. There will be no Magnetic Road service after 5:00 pm|
The Transit Offices are closed on:
New Year’s Day -Tuesday, January 1st
Martin Luther King Day – Monday, January 21st
President’s Day – Monday, February 18th
Thanksgiving Day – Thursday, November 28th
Christmas Eve -Tuesday, December 24th
Christmas Day – Wednesday, December 25th
New Year’s Day – Wednesday, January 1, 2020
With various festivals, an artistic flare, delectable food and Victorian architecture, Eureka Springs is a unique and beautiful village. IF YOU ARE EVER IN ARKANSAS, DON’T MISS THE MOST CHARMING CITY IN THE STATE!
Directions to Eureka Springs: