The entire two and a half square miles of downtown of Eureka Springs is on the National Historic Register. I traveled to Eureka Springs on a hosted trip along with my friend Rose Hammit and a group of travel writers that are part of the North American Travel Journalists Association. When we drove into town our first glimpse was awe-inspiring as we passed Victorian homes with turrets, beautiful porches and twisty turney streets one view lovelier than the next. The more I saw the more I was itching for our walk around town which we would get to do the next day!
History of Eureka Springs
The next morning before our walk, we got a chance to meet the esteemed Mayor of Eureka Springs, Robert “Butch” Berry. This engineer that is also a talented painter, shared a bit of history about Eureka Springs with us. “There are over 63 springs here in Eureka Springs. They were all thought to be medicinal,” Mayor Berry said.
The story goes that one of the first to benefit from the medicinal springs was a blind Indian princess. Because the Indians believed in the healing power of the area, Mayor Berry explained that the Eureka Springs was considered neutral ground. This story coincides with what is on the History of Eureka Springs website where it states several tribes spoke of a Great Healing Spring in the mountains of what later became known as “Arkansas.”
In our own family history there is a story of an Indian princess so this was fascinating to me! These springs like those of French Lick and other areas, brought people to the area and transformed it from wilderness to a city in a few short months. Hotel Operator Bill Ott added, “Water is what brought the people here. It has been a fun ride.”
The waters of the area became famous when the water was bottled under the name of the Ozarka Bottling Company which continues today. Mayor Berry showed us a very cool Ozarka bottle from the past!
The history of Eureka Springs states, “The City of Eureka Springs was founded and named on July 4, 1879. As word of Eureka’s miraculous, healing waters began to spread, thousands of visitors flocked to the original encampment of tents and hastily built shanties. By late 1879, the estimated population of Eureka Springs reached 10,000 people and in 1881, the town was declared a “City of the First Class,” the fourth largest city in Arkansas. Stories of its founding and much of the heated history that followed is re-told daily on the Eureka Springs Walking tours.”
During the height of Eureka Springs popularity, the beautiful Crescent Hotel was built-in 1886. We stayed in this amazing hotel that has some unique history! The hotel website states, “For the first 15 years after its grand opening, The Crescent Hotel was operated by The Eureka Springs Improvement Company as an exclusive year-round resort hotel catering to the carriage set. During those Victorian Years, the years of grandeur, the gracious southern hospitality of the Crescent Hotel became well-known.”
The hotel sported a stable and lived the high life with balls, picnics and fun. The next phase of the hotel was in 1908 when it opened as the Crescent College & Conservatory for Young Women to offset the off-season during the Fall, Winter, and Spring months. During the Summer season it continued to function as a hotel. They stayed open until the Great Depression, but hard economic times brought a sad new era to the hotel that makes up a big part of the nightly ghost tours that are offered. Hotel history states, “In 1937 a charlatan who allowed himself to be called “doctor” purchased the Crescent Hotel and converted it to Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital. His name was Norman Glenwood Baker of Muscatine, Iowa. Norman Baker had a fetish for the color purple. Many sections of the hospital were painted purple and the remnants can still be seen on the chimneys located on the rooftop of the hotel. He also drove a purple automobile and wore white linen suits with purple shirts and ties. People came from all over to seek the cure. Many came, many were treated, many died and a few of their stories can be heard along with what happened to Norman Baker on the nightly ghost tours!”
Today the hotel is quite lovely. The hotel underwent a renaissance in 1997 when Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased the hotel. Since that time more than $10 million has gone into the refurbishing, upgrading and preservation of this treasure, ensuring its place on the list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The night we arrived, they had an amazing reception for us and we had some wonderful wine from Keel’s Creek and food served in the Crystal Dining Room.
Following the reception, we were treated to a ghost tour and finally the most amazing performance from Julianna Fay and illusionist Sean Paul owner of the Intrigue Theatre where Julianna actually levitated. After a cocktail on the fun Sky Bar, we called it a night. Rose and I shared a room and I’ll admit we left the lights on that night. We heard some strange noises in the hall that sounded like rolling carts, but …….
Breakfast the next day was amazing. Rose and I took a quick walk and enjoyed the beautiful Crescent Hotel porch and rocking chairs. We also were quite enamored with the lovely Catholic church that sits next to the hotel. It is just a short walk and worth the time it takes to stroll around the church. There was someone around that even let us walk inside for a quick view.
Before setting off for our day in downtown Eureka Springs we took a group picture in front of the cool crescent statue in front of the hotel. After going to the Mayors Office, we all visited the historic City Auditorium which had a Grand Ole Opry vibe. Lots of famous performers had performed here. Ray Charles had his last concert here. I was impressed by the beauty of the place and would love to come back and see a performance.
Everyone set out in different directions. Rose and I just browsed. We stopped by the beautiful Basin Park Hotel and looked in a little park downtown where musicians were playing. At the top of the Basin Hotel is the statement, “Basin water has made 90 percent of the cures of Eureka!” How’s that for advertising?
There was art all over downtown and a cool arch with the words “Balm of life” emblazoned which I assume related back to the water and springs, but I am not sure. Art included from the finer art to a carved gnome and Humpty Dumpty. We tried lunch at Red’s Pizza where Dori served us up pizza with homemade dough that was quite amazing.
We all met back at the parking lot and before we headed out to our next stop, we saw an awe-inspiring look at the Crescent Hotel from an overlook. Eureka Springs is many things, it is history, it is art. It is a place I want to go back to and visit again!