Eureka Springs, dubbed `the Little Switzerland of the USA` is a small town in the Ozark Mountains, in the North-Western part of Arkansas. Today, it is one of the best-preserved late-nineteenth-century architectural complexes; its cozy chalets, elegant lodges, public buildings, and imposing hotels still echo the glory of a turn of the century spa town. Eureka Springs, as the name suggests, was a spa resort that had its glory days in the years 1880-1934.
Many years before considered by the native Americans as filled with springs with healing properties, the area is indeed sprinkled with rich groundwater reserves that surface the layers of porous limestone. The bluffs created by these interesting rock formations together with the hilly nature of the establishments in this part of the Ozarks give Eureka Springs a very picturesque appearance. The area`s rename is connected to the Civil War because many sick and injured soldiers were treated here, after the battles, by a doctor called Alvah Jackson. The wounded spent their long convalesce in the rock houses near the spring reservations (i.e. these exist to-day).
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the town saw fast growth visible in the posh hotels, especially in the Basin Park area, a local Women’s club, a Carnegie library (i.e. the second Carnegie Library in Arkansas), mule-drawn trolleys (1), many shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, the fire was a constant danger to Eureka Springs` fine buildings. Some of the oldest hotels around the Basin Park area, like Southern Hotel and Perry Hotel, fell prey to the flames. Perry Hotel, known as the Perry House (1881-1890), was built by Joseph Perry, a businessman from Colorado who had built several hotels along the railroad, in Kansas City, and in Colorado. Before visiting Eureka Springs, Mister Perry was considered an incurable invalid, but the spring waters worked in his case.
Where Perry House stood, Basin Park Hotel was built in 1905. It was seen as the most modern of the time. Indeed it was. It had electric elevator and electric lights; telephones could be found in every guest-room; hot and cold water was provided in every room; most of the bedrooms were equipped with private baths; the ground floor had a barbershop, a drugstore, offices; the dining room seated 200 people; the 7th floor (i.e. the last floor) was devoted to a ballroom, sun parlor, reception, grill, and billiard rooms.
No building of Eureka Springs tells its story better than Crescent Hotel. It is located on a mountain ridge in the shape of a crescent, hence the name of the hotel. From the last floor, you can admire the beautiful Ozarks and their richness of trees. Crescent was built starting 1880 by a group of businessmen of whom the railway tycoon Robert Kerens was the most prominent. The design was conceived by Isaac Taylor, the architect of St. Louis World`s Fair. It was opened on 20th May 1886 and it was believed to be the `finest West of Mississippi hotel.
Starting 1908, Crescent Hotel also hosted a college for girls of upper-class families, in the months September to May, when the spa season was slow. The girls came as far as the Indian territory and they studied after a balanced curriculum, which would harmonize the scientific and social skills (2). On the last floor of the hotel, there is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the representative women who graduated this college in the years 1908-1934.
Sadly, following the economic depression of 1933, the hotel decayed. In 1937 it was bought by a doctor, Norman Baker by his name, who transformed it in a hospital for cancer curing. It was proved that this doctor was a charlatan. Some advertisements and newspaper articles that depict Crescent Hotel as a sanatorium can be found on display at the last floor of the hotel. Norman Baker was arrested for fraud in 1939, and the hotel stood unoccupied throughout the entire period 1940-1946. Afterwards, it changed ownership many times, until 1997 when Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased it, restored it, and returned it to the public. Today, Crescent has the rename of a haunted hotel. It may be or it may not, but the fact is that its majestic beauty is arresting, particularly the combination of old Victorian charm and modern conveniences of an American four stars hotel.
* Most of the information used in this article can be found in the rich collection of articles and photos on display on the last floor of Crescent Hotel. In addition, the town itself is endowed with beautiful memory plaques that mark the spots of once existing important buildings or springs. Spring waters, although entirely preserved, are not drinkable anymore, partly because of contamination from the rainfalls.
- The trolley line was electrified in 1891 and it ceased its operation in 1923. It was reintroduced in 1986. Its cute green appearance on the sloppy streets of Eureka Springs became a symbol of the city.
- The girls were active in athletic and riding associations, but also in social service clubs. The classes were oriented to `the welfare of body and mind`. A programme as such was a two-year course that required English, Mothercraft, Hygiene, Dietetics, Theory of Goods, Physiology, Psychology, and Biology [Info is taken from an article available on display at the last floor of Crescent Hotel and posted by the Crescent College history group]