We took a day trip to Eureka Springs, AR (see map)when we were in the NW Arkansas Ozarks area in August. Eureka Springs is the only town in the United States where the entire downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And it's a bit of a tourist trap at the same time. There's a number of shops and restaurants, and there are a number of hotels in the town that play upon the historical significance of Eureka Springs' past, primarily known for the supposed healing springs that permeated the area.
Our first stop in Eureka Springs was the lavish hilltop retreat, the Crescent Hotel. Built in the 1880's, the hotel was visited by thousands during the first few years of its existence who came from as far as Europe to bathe in the area's many springs.
After the turn of the century, scientific proof began to show that there was no medicinal value in Eureka Springs' spring water and the Crescent Hotel became just a vacation destination for many people across American. The Great Depression jolted the Eureka Springs area more than others as they relied upon tourism to keep the town afloat. After the second World War, the Crescent rebounded, but began to founder in the 70's.
In 1996, Marty and Elise Roenigk, who owned the Basin Park Hotel in downtown Eureka Springs, bought the Crescent Hotel and started a widespread restoration of the hotel. Today, it is one of the finer hotels in the Ozarks.
The statue to be the cornerstone of a religious amusement park that Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith proposed in the mid-60's. The park was never built, but there is a religious retreat on the property. Each night in the summertime, hundreds of people recreate the Passion Play depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at an amphitheater.
And no, we didn't go over to check the place out.
After checking out a couple of the many antique stores in the area, we started looking for some of the historic springs that are throughout the area. Since it was early in August when we were there - and a steady rain for most of the morning notwithstanding - the springs were pretty well dried up. But that didn't stop us from looking at them closer.
This is probably the most famous of the many springs in the area - The Grotto Spring. There are stairs that allow a person to go down and enter the cave spring area. As I said, there wasn't much water flowing, so there really wasn't much to see other than a bunch of rocks and some graffiti.
Down the hill a bit from the Grotto Spring, we came across a number of other springs, including this one on the left - Healing Spring. In fact, a lot of the springs had statues and some very nice floral landscaping around them. They were all very pretty to look at.
Down the street from a number of the springs was the Palace Hotel and Bath House. Built in 1901, the hotel has been completely restored and is a high end boutique hotel that also offers a spa. The architecture of the place was pretty impressive.
The downtown area has a number of little shops and restaurants, but the largest structure is the previously mentioned Basin Park Hotel. Built in 1905 by a man in poor health who believed in the healing power of the springs in the area, the Basin Park Hotel building was one of the first structures in Arkansas to have both an elevator and full electricity.
One of the more peculiar historical places in Eureka Springs is "Hatchet Hall", the home of temperance movement leader Carry Nation. Nation led a large group of pre-Prohibition religious zealots who were against the sale and consumption of alcohol in the late 19th century into the early 1900's. She would attack beer halls and taverns with her signature hatchet, breaking glasses, bottles and chopping into kegs of beer. Hatchet Hall was her residence up to her death in 1911.
All in all, Eureka Springs was a nice place to visit. A little touristy for me, but I'm glad that we went during the middle part of the week. I understand that traffic gets tremendously bad during the weekend (parking lots are few and far between in the center of town, and there are a number of parking lots on the outskirts that are served by a shuttle bus service).
And there has been some problems with motorcyclists in the area. There are a number of businesses who put up signs in their windows that say, "Motorcycle Friendly" or "Welcome Motorcyclists". I'm guessing that a lot of people on motorcycles go to Eureka Springs on nice days, traversing the winding roads that are throughout the area. I'm sure that they clog the roads and make a lot of noise in the town when they drive through.
By the way, here's a shot of the White River from just west of Eureka Springs. This gives you an idea of some of the great vistas in NW Arkansas.
Eureka Springs is a nice place to visit, I'm glad we went. But if you're not into history, little specialty shops or antiques, its probably not going to be all that special.