Historic Spring Street of Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs is a peculiar town nestled away in the mountains of northern Arkansas. First marked on the Arkansas city directory in 1881, the town sprung up around hot springs that were said to have curative properties, and quickly accrued national fame. Today, Spring Street is a host to untouched Victorian architecture and many small curio shops. Vendors of all types from across the world have made their homes here, from the Indian fusion restaurant New Delhi to to the weapon and lingerie store Babes & Blades. Its hodgepodge community is no less tight than it was in the town's inception, and many store owners can speak of not only one another, but also the various buildings' histories at length.
Backstory and Context
The Eureka Springs downtown historical district is a true sight to behold. Rows of houses and shops are stacked stair-like beside one another, and roads curl like snakes around the sheer cliff faces. In Basin Park, the spring is still active today, and passersby can drink from the spring through custom-made water fountains. The town's original population came from sick folks travelling countless miles to arrive in order to seek the curative waters of the springs, and the hodgepodge organization is no doubt due partly to that fact.
The reason for the influx of sick people was because of an idea at the time called the water cure. This was the belief that spring water had a purity that would aid the body in its recovery from illnesses. This came out of clever marketing, and served the dual purpose of both preserving natural springs from being bulldozed, and also making spring water companies plenty of money and influence. In the case of Eureka Springs, it brought people from far and wide who were seeking help.
One other thing that brought people and goods to Eureka Springs was the railroad. Without it, the town would not be nearly as large as it is today. The Frisco railroad built a line in 1890 that went from modern Monet, Missouri, through Eureka Springs, and finally ended in Paris, Texas. This made it far easier for goods and people to get into Eureka Springs. Before, those looking to enter Eureka Springs had two options. One included taking a railroad to Pierce City, some fifty miles away, and having guides lead passengers through rocky hills and treacherous terrain. The other included riding up the Arkansas river by steamboat, disembarking at Ozark, a town eighty-five miles away, and taking an uncomfortable carriage ride to Eureka that took 19 hours. Later in the town's history, in 1890, a streetcar system was built to reduce the number of horses on the roads, but it was decommissioned in 1923 when the streets began to fill with automobiles.
One building of particular note, high on Spring Street, is the Jewel Box store. Although it currently boasts jewelry handmade by the denizens of Eureka, its original purpose was the Eureka Springs bank. This bank is where the only bank robbery in Eureka Springs history took place, all the way back in 1922. Five men from the well known Henry Starr gang (none of whom was named Henry Starr) attempted to steal $95,000 in savings bonds and $25,000 in cash in broad daylight, but a silent alarm system put in by Eureka's residents alerted the town to their presence. Leaving the bank, the robbers stepped directly into a firefight with residents of Eureka. Two of the robbers were killed on the spot, and a third died later of his wounds. The other two were kept in jail, and not a single citizen of Eureka was injured.
This anecdote, while not related to the history of Eureka Springs as a whole, shows the ingenuity and hard work that residents of the town had to put in to maintain its beauty and safety, something that rings true in the town even today.
Dew, Lee A. "From Trails to Rails in Eureka Springs." The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 41, no. 3 (1982): 203-14.
Moonan, Wendy. “Eureka Springs: A Former Spa Town in the Ozarks Where the Victorian Era Lives On” Architectural Digest, October 1, 2003.
Oatsvall, Neil S. "Bottling Nature's Elixir." The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 78, no. 1 (2019): 1-31.
“Posse of Citizens Gets Whole Gang of Bank Bandits,” Omaha World Herald, September 28, 1922.