Eureka Springs - Little Switzerland
of the Ozarks
Centuries before the beautiful Victorian city
Springs was born, the area had long been known by the
for its healing waters. An old
American Legend tells of a
who suffered from an eye affliction that had taken away her sight.
However, when she washed her eyes in the Basin Spring, her eyesight was
Before long, the legend spread and Indians
came from far and wide to partake of the healing waters. It soon
became a sacred site, where war could not be made among the tribes and
only peaceful gatherings were allowed. This was respected among all
Basin Spring has long been known as a place
for healing waters.
The first white
settler to come upon the healing springs was a man named Dr. Alvah
Jackson. Having heard the
Indian legend, he brought his son to the springs in 1856 to also
cure an eye ailment. When the Civil War broke out, Jackson
established what became known as "Dr. Jackson's Cave Hospital" to care
for the ill and injured. After the war, he established a
successful business selling "Dr. Jackson's Eye Water."
The "secrets” of the
springs remained known to only the locals until early 1879 when Dr.
Jackson’s friend and hunting companion, Judge J. B. Saunders of
Berryville, visited him. Suffering from a skin disease called
erysipelas that causes severe inflammation, the judge was allegedly
cured after visiting Basin Spring. Using his influence, the
judge began to promote the springs throughout the state of
Word quickly spread that the spring’s miraculous, healing waters were said to cure, or
at least help, virtually every ailment known at the time, including
diabetes, rheumatism, women’s diseases, asthma, paralysis, and more.
thousands of visitors began to flock the area and the City of Eureka
Springs was officially founded on July 4, 1879. The first cabin
was built by Judge Saunders, who utilized it as a summer retreat. Next came a rough board shanty built by O.D. Thornton, who utilized it
not only as a place of residence, but also as a general store. By the end of July there were twelve structures around the springs
along with numerous tents and wagons. By mid August, the
population had grown to about 300 and before long another general
store, a meat market, and a blacksmith shop were built. By the
end of the year, the settlement’s population had reached some 10,000
people and supported numerous businesses including hotels,
bathhouses, livery stables, groceries, and dry goods stores.
By 1881, the town was
declared a "City of the First Class," and had become the fourth
largest city in
Arkansas. Unlike the development of most cities, where the most desirable
locations are on the higher elevations, the choicest lots in the
settlement were near the springs. This is where the wealthy population
of the burgeoning city built their homes.
The attraction of the springs also brought
numerous investors and the Eureka
Springs Improvement Company was soon organized by former
governor Powell Clayton. These enterprising investors began an
era of "gracious living” in Eureka
Springs that would last until the turn of the century.
of the first tasks of the Improvement Company was to bring the railroad to
the new city. At the time, the closest terminal was located in
some 55 miles to the northeast.
that time, the many visitors to the city were required to take a nine-hour
stage ride from Pierce City in order to reach the springs. Effective in
their efforts, the railroad was extended to Seligman,
just 18 miles away, in 1882. The Eureka
Springs Railway was chartered in the same year and was opened to
travel on February 1, 1893. The steam engine brought with it, not
only numerous visitors searching for a cure, but also a number of booming
Vintage north Spring Street in Eureka
no time, Eureka Springs became an important commercial center for the
area. However, when the town suffered an extremely destructive fire on
November 3, 1883, it destroyed approximately five acres of the town,
including most of the businesses district.
As a result, the Eureka
Springs Improvement Company, as well as many of the city’s residents began
to replace the older frame structures with new brick and stone buildings.
The Improvement Company also began to make city improvements which
included widening of the streets, installation of street lights, and
establishment of water and sewage systems.
In 1884, the Improvement
Company, in partnership with the Frisco Railroad, began to build the
Crescent Hotel. Considered America’s most luxurious resort
hotel of the time, the majestic inn opened among a midst of fan fair on
May 20, 1886. Notables from across the country attended its grand
opening, which included a gala ball, complete with a full orchestra, and
banquet dinner for 400 celebrants.
Offering large airy rooms
with exquisite furnishings, a dining room that once seated more than 500
people, and outside amenities that included a swimming pool, tennis courts
and croquet, among a beautiful landscape of flower gardens, winding
boardwalks and gazebos, the opulence of the hotel was unmatched at the
well-to-do of the nation began to flock to the luxurious resort hotel as
liveried footmen met them at the Frisco depot before transporting them to
the inn. Once there, the guest could not only enjoy the healing
waters of the spa, but also a stable of 100 sleek-coated horses, tea
dances in the afternoon, and elaborate parties every evening with a full
Hotel changed hands a number of times over the last century, serving
in various capacities and suffering a tragic fire in the 1960’s. However, "Grand Lady of The Ozarks,” as the hotel is affectionately
called, has been fully restored to her original magnificence and continues
to cater to travelers today.
By the turn of the
Eureka Springs reached its peak of prosperity, and then gradually
began a slow decline. As modern medicine continued to improve, the faith
in the healing powers of mineral springs began to dwindle.
Springs, along with numerous other resorts around the country,
painfully felt the decline, as tourists stopped frequenting mineral spas. Another blow was dealt to the city when the
Arkansas Railroad connected
Springs with Harrison,
1901, immediately decreasing the town’s importance as a commercial center.
The last "important”
Springs’ "golden days” held its grand opening on July 1, 1905. The seven-story Basin Park Hotel represented an unusual form of
architecture. Built against a mountainside, each of the seven floors
is a ground floor on the backside the hotel. The Basin Park Hotel is
still open today.
In 1911, when the
railroad transferred its repair workshops to nearby Harrison, it almost
spelled a death knell for the
Springs. However, the city would survive when the automobile
became affordable for the masses. In the 1920s, the National Auto
Trails were opened and U.S. Highway 62, which began in Niagara Falls, New
York and ended in El Paso,
passed right along the edge of
Springs. Known as the Ozark Trail, the highway spawned a new
roadside culture of service stations, motor courts, diners and tourist
traps. The Auto Trails era ended as interstates replaced the old
routes in the 1970s, but much of the vintage architecture of the era can
still be seen today.
But again, when the
depression hit the nation,
Springs, like other vacation destinations suffered severely. Unfortunately, during this time a number of wooden buildings were torn
down so that the materials could be sold or reused for other purposes. However, none of the existing stone and brick buildings were razed. Though many of them stood abandoned for years, the quality of construction
utilized in the buildings would save them for later use.
After the depression,
numerous artists and writers began to relocate to the area and the WPA
project created the world’s largest hand cut stone dam at Lake
After World War II, when
travel restrictions lifted, Americans again began to take vacations and
Eureka Springs realized a small boom as a tourist destination. Many of the abandoned buildings once again began to see new life. When
the Army Corps of Engineers began work on Beaver Dam in 1960, the
recreation facilities and Beaver Lake, coupled with the opening of the
Pea Ridge Battle Field National Military Park, brought yet more visitors
After a lapse of half a
century, the city began to experience a second "boom” as motels and
service facilities sprang up, abandoned buildings filled with boutiques
and specialty shops, and artists and retirees took up permanent residence.
In 1970, the entire city
Eureka Springs was designated as a Historic District and listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. Covering about two square
miles, the district includes almost 500 buildings that contribute to the
historic significance of the city, most of which were built of native
stone from 1890 to 1910. Eureka
Springs was also named one of America’s Twelve Distinctive
Destinations in 2001 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and
Eureka Springs was upgraded to by the National Park Service to
National Significance on the National Historic Register.
Arkansas today, photo courtesy
University of Arkansas
Today, this quaint city
of almost 2,500 people is one of the best-preserved 19th century
communities in the nation. Tucked into the Ozark Mountains and
encircled by two beautiful lakes, the city provides numerous historic
attractions and simple pleasures, while still giving the visitor the
opportunity to shop at more than 100 specialty boutiques, dine at 70
restaurants, and partake of a number of recreational opportunities.
of America, updated October, 2012.
Haunted Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs
From Legends' General Store
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