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 time.
Immediately, 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 in-house orchestra.
The Crescent Hotel changed hands a number of times over the last century, serving in various capacities and suffering a tragic fire in the 1960s. 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 century, 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. Eureka 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 St. Louis and North Arkansas Railroad connected Eureka Springs with Harrison, Arkansas in 1901, immediately decreasing the town’s importance as a commercial center.
The last “important” building of Eureka 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 Eureka 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, Texas, passed right along the edge of Eureka 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 Great Depression hit the nation, Eureka 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 Leatherwood.
After World War II, when travel restrictions lifted, Americans again began to take vacations and soon 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 to northwest Arkansas.
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 limits of 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 in 2005, Eureka Springs was upgraded to by the National Park Service to National Significance on the National Historic Register.
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.
The Great Passion Play, an outdoor drama depicting the last week in the life of Jesus Christ, is one of the most visited attractions. The event opened in 1868. The site also includes the Christ of the Ozarks, a 67-foot tall statue, the Holy Land Tour, a tabernacle, museum and more.