What's the story behind Eureka Springs?

Friday, November 2, 2007

It may be hard to imagine now, but all that you see around you, from the great shopping to the spas and restaurants and attractions, all came about because of the fame surrounding one spring. For centuries, Native Americans traveled to this area not only for the extremely fine hunting, but also because they believed there was a powerful healing spring. Legends say that these tribes are the ones that originally carved out the basin, henceforth Basin Spring. Some even postulate that Basin Spring was the source of those "Fountain of Youth" stories that drove Ponce de Leon wild in 1512.

  Many cures were attributed to the waters of Basin Spring among the native peoples, but around 1860 was the first account that really started the trickle of visitors to the spring. Dr. Alvah Jackson was hunting with his son around the spring, and his son complained of "sore eyes" during the hunting trip. Jackson suggested to his son that he wash his eyes in the spring because of its legendary healing properties. The next day, the young man's eyes felt better than ever, and Jackson believed this verified all those stories. He remembered the spring when fighting broke out nearby during the Civil War, and set up a tiny hospital in a cave around the hill from Basin Spring, where he treated casualties from both sides. Later, when the building boom started, that cave became the town's first bar, where people could still be medicated, but for altogether different reasons.

  In 1879, a friend of the good doctor, Judge Saunders, came to the spring because of a rather nasty skin affliction and general poor health. Thinking positive, he built a crude shack near the spring and began to treat himself with the water. The judge recovered fully, spread the word, and others began making their way to Basin Spring. By the summer of 1879, the place was popping with activity, and new springs were being discovered. Stories began to appear in newspapers about the various cures near this little spring in the middle of the woods, and a town began to take shape. On July 4, 1879, more than 600 people gathered around the spring, and after much discussion, someone shouted Eureka! The exclamation means "I have found it!" and truer words were never spoken. The town became Eureka Springs, and by the next year, it was a city of 10,000 people. All this building meant that trees became rather scarce, and old photographs show wooden houses and shacks dotting the hills, with just a few trees in between. The city fathers set aside spring reservations to preserve the beauty of the springs; those reservations still exist today. You can still enjoy the wooded walking trail connecting Sweet Spring and Harding Spring because of some far-thinking men in the 1800s.

  There are other spring reservations all over town; in fact, Eureka Springs has more than 60 springs within the downtown area. Some are public, some are private, but they all played a part in history. After a few fires blazed through town, people began building with brick and stone. In a few decades, the craze over healing waters would be over, and eventually a population of 10,000 eased down to just over 2,200; the trees grew back, with some help from the townsfolk, and Eureka Springs became a popular site for artists, from the 1930s until today. A preservation movement in the 1970s and 80s meant that many of the old Victorian homes were fixed up, and placed on the National Historic Register. The entire town became known for its beautiful historic district, art-friendly atmosphere, and unique attractions. Today, after surviving so many different phases, people still come to Eureka Springs and exclaim, "I have found it!"

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