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I recently enjoyed a road trip to Arkansas and an afternoon exploring Eureka Springs. I’ve visited this intriguing little town many times, however, with my desire to see with a fresh perspective, I learned several new things.
Tucked into the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs, Arkansas offers Victorian charm, an artsy attitude and interesting energy! It’s called the Little Switzerland of Arkansas…although it bears other nicknames as well.
Come with me on a tour of Eureka Springs.
Exploring Eureka Springs History
Located in northwest Arkansas, Eureka Springs is a small community of about 2,300 people. The town clings to the mountains…in Arkansas, these are more like big rocky hills…earning it the name of Little Switzerland.
Native American legends told of the Great Healing Springs in the area. Indigenous peoples long visited the springs and considered them sacred. When European settlers arrived, they found the springs restorative as well.
Dr. Alvah Jackson is credited with locating Basin Spring in 1856. He claimed the waters healed an eye condition. In 1879 Judge JB Saunders declared himself healed from a crippling disease, by the springs, and promoted Eureka Springs. In a year the community became a flourishing city, spa and tourist destination.
Eureka Springs incorporated as a city in 1880 and by 1881 became the fourth largest town in Arkansas. Within a few years, the city attracted thousands of people who built Victorian style homes and established commercial enterprises.
The city continues as a tourist town, offering unique shops, cafes, arts and crafts. It’s a mecca for artists, writers and those who appreciate a creative, diverse lifestyle.
Fun Facts About Eureka Springs
There is so much more to Eureka Springs, beyond its establishment. Perhaps because of all the springs…at least 62 of them…and the limestone in the area, it presents strong, unusual energy. The word “eureka” comes from the Greek mathematician Archimedes…and it means “I found it”. I can imagine the excitement the discovery of the springs brought. Check out these interesting finds as well.
Underground Eureka Springs
The first street in Eureka, appropriately named Main Street, stretched down a gulch that connected to Basin Spring. Because of its low elevation and a spring fed creek nearby, Main Street continually flooded, earning it the nickname of Mud Street. The buildings built along Main…or Mud…Street often flooded as well.
In 1890 major street improvements raised the level of Main Street to the second story level of the buildings lining the street. The ground floors then became underground basements connected by narrow limestone passageways. Beneath most of these basements lies another basement level through which runs a stream of water.
I never knew this about the town! On Main Street and Spring Street you can peer down into grates in the sidewalk and see the old storefronts below. Greg and I ate lunch at Mud Street Cafe on Main Street, which is located underground down a flight of steps. It’s a unique place to eat a wonderful meal. They have several vegan options.
Take a tour of the Eureka Springs Underground. Tickets available HERE.
Dr. Jackson Creates a Cave Hospital
Before the town officially incorporated, settlers’ shacks sprang up around the springs. Dr. Jackson began marketing the spring water as “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water”.
During the Civil War, Dr. Jackson established a hospital in a local cave. He treated wounded soldiers with spring water and other natural remedies that he learned from the Native Americans.
Fires Destroyed the Community Multiple Times
The original structures in town were made of wood. The houses, fifty hotels and boarding houses, and commercial buildings were susceptible to fire. Major fires struck Eureka Springs in 1883, 1888, 1890 and 1893. Eventually stone structures replaced wooden ones, lessening the fire risk.
Many of the buildings downtown stand on the footprints of previous buildings.
Basin Park Luxury Lodgings occupies the spot where The Southern Hotel once stood. Built in 1880, the hotel suffered damage in the fire of 1890. The repaired and enlarged hotel boasted 100 rooms and an elevator. It burned to the ground in a “spectacular blaze” in 1932.
On the other side of the park, The Perry House was the other grand hotel in town. This four story hotel, built in 1881, burned down in the fire of 1890 as well. On that site now rests the Basin Park Hotel, built in 1905. The current lodging contains 100 rooms and a top floor ball room. It is considered the second most haunted hotel in Eureka Springs! More about this hotel in my upcoming “Ghost Stories” series in October.
Basin Spring Park
The spring first utilized by Native Americans is located in the park at the center of town. The first health seekers camped here in 1879. And the first town survey platted with lots, blocks and streets extending in all directions surrounds this central point.
The spring now lies beneath the park. There’s a grate to peer into, to view the original spring.
Basin Spring Park offers the perfect spot to rest while shopping and exploring the city. Live music often flows from the band shell and stage, erected in 1921. There’s a short…and steep…hiking trail that rises above the park, providing great views.
National Register of Historic Places
The whole city is on the National Register of Historic Places, as the Eureka Springs Historic District. The town is also one of America’s Distinctive Destinations, as selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Besides the nickname Little Switzerland, Eureka Springs is also called The Stairstep Town, due to the mountainous terrain and winding streets and sidewalks. And it’s called Halloween City during October, due to the many paranormal experiences people have here. It claims to “deliver more thrills and chills per square mile than any other town in America.”
One of the Most Photographed Buildings in Arkansas
In the central downtown area, sandwiched between Spring and Center Streets, stands one of the most unusual buildings in town…and the state. Affectionately called the Flatiron Building, the triangular shaped structure, which houses a hotel and shops, is one of the most photographed structures in the state.
Built in 1987, the developer, Lawrence Smith, took great care to make the building look old. Two previous buildings on the site…you guessed it…burned down.
The Flatiron Building often serves as the iconic symbol for Eureka Springs.
Most Haunted Hotel in Town…and the US
The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa has a rich…and spooky…history. I’ll save the ghost stories for the October post. For now I’ll only add that it earns its nickname as America’s Most Haunted Hotel. Far from disturbed by this, the hotel happily caters to ghost hunters and paranormal seekers, offering ghost tours on site.
Originally constructed as a luxury hotel in 1886, the structure is made from locally sourced limestone and features a variety of styles including French Renaissance and Richardsonian Romanesque. The hotel towers over the town below, from its perch on West Mountain.
During its long history, the building served as a luxury hotel, a women’s college a cancer hospital and eventually was renovated back into a hotel and spa. It’s a popular destination for weddings and special events.
Exploring Eureka Springs
A few things to remember, exploring Eureka Springs.
The streets are very narrow and wind up and down hills. There are no traffic lights, and parking downtown is limited. However, Eureka Springs is made to explore on foot. There are shuttles that carry in visitors from outlying parking lots, for a small fee.
The sidewalks also wind up and down hills and are sometimes uneven. Use care when walking and watch your step.
Eureka Springs is a tourist town and most of it closes down between November and March. Check online before arriving there, to see what’s open during those months.
Besides the historic downtown district, there are many other attractions in the Eureka Springs area. These include Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Beaver Lake, The Great Passion Play and Christ of the Ozarks, Vintage Train Ride on the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, Lake Leatherwood City Park and Eureka Springs Brewery. I’ll feature some of these places in upcoming posts!
And watch for the Ghost Stories from Eureka Springs, coming in October, for a hair raising peek into the city’s scary side.
Have you visited this uniquely beautiful town in Arkansas?
Eureka Springs Finds from Amazon:
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