Photo courtesy of Eureka Springs Historical Museum
St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church was originally built by early resident Richard C. Kerens in memory of his mother — it was a memorial chapel. According to historical accounts, Kerens and his family were spending a lengthy vacation at the nearby Crescent Hotel, of which he was one of the builders and financiers. On the morning of his departure, he and his mother were standing on this location saying their goodbyes. As his carriage went along the street below, he looked up and saw his mother waving. This was the last time he was to see her alive, because while he was out of the country, she passed away at her Fort Smith home in 1892.
A few years later after Kerens returned to America, he decided to erect a memorial in honor of his mother. Since this was the last place he saw her, he chose it as the building site. The construction of the dry retaining walls of native limestone began in 1904 and the original chapel was completed in 1906. A short time later, a Catholic Bishop from Little Rock petitioned Kerens to make an addition to the little chapel so that Mass could be said for both locals and visiting parishioners. In 1909, the edifice was granted the status of a church. Around this time, the now-famous bell tower was also constructed. This unique structure has been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not three times because it was the only way to enter the church.
The hand-tooled masonry, architectural design and unique location make the church a focal point of visitors to Eureka Springs from all over the world. It has been the object of artists and photographers for decades, and still functions fully as a vibrant church serving local parishioners as well as thousands of visitors each year.
— Stephanie Stodden
Museum Operations Manager