To your health: Arkansas resort town founded on healing waters
Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a resort town in the hills of the Ozark Mountains, is noted for its Victorian architecture; miles of rivers, lakes and hiking and biking trails; and historical springs.
It’s also a place that many artists call home.
“You can find every type of music and art possible in this town,” said Chris Ritthaler, a member of Eureka Springs Historical Museum’s board of directors.
Visitors also can explore the town’s more than 60 cold springs, some of which are in caves; a few trickle from landscaped pocket parks around downtown.
They can stroll the zigzag streets and admire the brick and limestone homes and businesses, which cling to the steep hillsides and are decked out with wrought-iron balconies, turrets and fanciful gingerbread trim.
The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa is a reminder of the days when Eureka’s waters bubbled from the crevices of limestone and made the town into a popular spa destination.
Members of the Osage Native American tribe were the first to talk of the springs’ “healing” powers in the 1770s.
One early settler, Dr. Alvah Jackson, reported that the spring waters had cured his son of an eye ailment in 1856, and he set up a business selling Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water, Ritthaler said. The waters also were used to care for soldiers during the Civil War.
The water remained a local marvel until 1879, when Jackson’s friend Judge J.B. Saunders visited one of the springs and discovered that his overall health had improved. He used his influence to promote the springs beyond Eureka’s borders.
In a matter of months, the area was transformed from a wilderness to a boomtown, where a community of 5,000 sprang up, Ritthaler said.
The water quality got an official stamp of approval when it was deemed second to that of Switzerland’s at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
However, the town’s fortunes faded when modern medicine quickly debunked the idea of healing waters. Because the town was largely forgotten for much of the 20th century, its architecture and character from the boom days were preserved.
Today, the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places and features one-of-a-kind shops, galleries with fine art or folk art, craft stores, and restaurants where the chef who makes the meals probably owns the place.
The town is near two lakes — Beaver Lake and Table Rock — and the White River, popular for trout fishing, as well as Kings River, where smallmouth bass can be caught.
Music festivals range from opera to bluegrass to jazz. The springs’ “healing” powers live on in the form of day spas, massage therapists and herbalists.
Other things to do in Eureka Springs include visiting the Thorncrown Chapel, which placed fourth on the American Institute of Architects list of top buildings in the 20th century, and catching a performance of The Great Passion Play, which tells the story of Jesus’ last days on Earth — according to the Institute of Outdoor Drama it is the No. 1 attended outdoor drama in America. It runs from Easter through October, and COVID-19 precautions are being taken.
For more information and an events calendar, visit eurekasprings.com.