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Legend has it that several tribes spoke of a Great Healing Spring in the mountains of what later became known as "Arkansas." Early on, visitors believed that the spring they spoke of was Basin Spring itself.
Basin Spring is located in the heart of downtown Eureka at what is now the site of Basin Spring Park, 4 Spring Street.
In the heart of the park is the spring itself.
These were the magical waters that drew the afflicted in such numbers back in the 1800s that Eureka Springs soon transformed from an isolated wilderness to a flourishing city in a few short months.
The healing waters of Eureka gained national acclaim with the beginning of Ozarka Bottling Company which continues today.
By late 1879, the estimated population of Eureka Springs reached 10,000 people and in 1881, the town was declared a "City of the First Class," the fourth largest city in Arkansas.
Today, the population is approx. 2500 and The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Eureka Springs as one of America's Distinctive Destinations.
The first to discover the healing springs is reputed to be Dr. Alvah Jackson. Born in 1806 in Georgia, he was a pioneer who discovered and used the healing waters to cure his son of an eye ailment in 1856. The waters were used at "Dr. Jackson's Cave Hospital" to care for combatants during the Civil War and, following the war, Dr. Jackson set up a brisk business selling "Dr. Jackson's Eye Water."
On July 4, 1879, Eureka Springs was founded, and named by a small group of people, around the "healing springs," as the Indians had called them.
After his discovery, he brought his friend Judge Saunders here in 1879 to attempt the curing of a leg problem.
Eureka's miraculous cures remained a local marvel until 1879 when the doctor's friend and hunting companion Judge J.B. Saunders was cured of a crippling disease by a visit to Basin Spring, and subsequently put his considerable influence behind promoting the Springs to friends and family throughout the state.
The overnight population growth was enormous and a settlement of hastily built shanties developed rapidly.
At the turn of the century, with the advent of modern medicine, the interest in the springs declined but by the 1920's with the arrival of automobiles, visitors returned and brought a surge of tourism after The Great Depression. The springs were alive and people were visiting Eureka again.
Today, 2019, this continues to be the case.
Today, our springs are managed by the Parks and Recreation Commission and they set out to preserve, protect, and enhance the park assets of the greater community of Eureka Springs and to manage them in ways that maximize their benefits to present and future generations.
The words “Esto Perpetua” emblazoned upon a stone above the entrance to Grotto Spring declare the prevailing belief that these healing waters would flow forth forever. Early Townspeople discovered the spring under an overhanging rock ledge a short distance from the well known Dairy Spring. Extensive street construction on “The Boulevard” as Spring Street was then called, began in 1890. This necessitated construction of an enclosure of limestone and ornamental stonework encasing Grotto Spring, hand-worked by very skilled stonemasons. Grotto Spring was located only a few steps from the Electric streetcar line. Some of the first Ordinances enacted by city government were to protect the springs for public use in perpetuity. The wooded area on the hillside above and around the spring is delineated by ordinance that appears to be Oak or Sheffield Spring described in Ordinance No 81 dated February 14, 1886. The Sheffield family resided nearby in 1880 and may have operated the original dairy for which the hollow below this site was named.
Crescent Spring Park, located next to the Carnegie Library on Spring Street, with its Victorian-style gazebo and beautiful rock walls, is always a favorite spot to visit.
Crescent Spring was revered for its healing waters almost as much as the Basin Spring. The legendary Indian Healing Spring situated beside the wagon road on a hillside with a rock outcropping described as “Crescent “ shaped, the spring was soon given that name as was Crescent Hotel, the fine limestone structure built at the summit in 1886. Street maps dated 1886 show a stone retaining wall and a circular enclosure of stone at the spring. Adjacent to it, twelve stair steps of dressed beaver limestone lead to a public thoroughfare ten feet in width extending to Park Avenue on the hillside above. The earliest view, an artist sketch of Crescent Spring, published in 1881, shows a simple wood shed built to shade and protect the waters.
The shed was replaced by an ornate wood gazebo with copper clad roof constructed by 1886. Wooden benches, a boardwalk, and gas street lamps were in place by 1886 creating a beautiful promenade for resort visitors. Crescent Spring and a reservation of the hillside above and on either side of the spring were set aside in the original plat of the town site surveyed August, 1879 named Spring Reservation around the “Principal Springs” which included Crescent Spring by name were established by Ordinance No. 1 enacted April, 1880, upon the incorporation of Eureka Springs as a City.
Sweet Spring Park, located on Spring Street, close to the Post Office, is a local and visitor favorite.
Sweet Spring is perhaps one of the most visually striking springs in town. Stone and greenery combine to create charming surroundings, and a small spiral staircase leads down into the spring’s basin bowl.
Named for Emmett Harding, a photographer who began the tradition of taking souvenirs photographs of people in front of the Spring. He built a small dwelling near the spring in the summer of 1879. In 1879, the spring was accessed by a narrow wagon track along a rocky ledge, leaving little room for gathering. Hand labor was required to move a great deal of earth to create a level area in front of the spring. A wide boardwalk and a wood stairway to the top of the cliff were built at that time.
Harding Spring is known as the site of one of the most famous healings in Eureka Springs. Twenty year old Jennie Cowan had been blind for seven years following a severe illness. Jennie used the waters of Basin Spring Park for several months to no avail. She began using the waters of Harding Spring exclusively on August 22, 1880. Her sight was restored. Her exclamation, "I can see!" - created an enormous sensation among the many people visiting Eureka Springs seeking the benefits of the healing waters. Harding Spring is one of the original spring reservations established by Ordinance No. 80 dated February 16, 1886.
The site of this spring was outside the area included in the 1879 survey known as East Mountain. This area was crowded with wood structures by 1885. The spring, which flowed from a small cave lined with projections of onyx stone, was already recognized for the healing waters. Later made a stream down over the rock ledges to the creek below. This overflow of Little Eureka Springs, Cave Springs, and others joined this stream further up the ravine. The spring overflow was very accessible and townspeople soon began to collect the water from below for household use. A wash house or laundry was established below the spring. In an early census, many women listed their occupation as a laundress. The town’s first government quickly passed an ordinance to protect all the springs. Circa 1880, ordinance No. 10, Section 2: All persons washing their persons or clothes in or above the basins of all public springs shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. The Riley Survey of 1893 delineates the boundaries of a spring reservation. On August 4, 1903, an ordinance was enacted creating and describing the Laundry Spring Reservation. The spring was known, however, from that date as Onyx Spring. And the onyx stone is reputed to have been taken for souvenirs over time. In 1922, residents of East Mountain raised all the funds needed to employ carpenters to make improvements around the spring. They built a wood shelter over the cave opening. It was proudly boasting “Not a penny came from the city for these improvements.” The Parks and Recreation Commission officially recognized the spring as Laundry Spring on October 9, 2003.
The plaque reads: "Any metal object placed in the spring water was widely claimed to become magnetized. It was also claimed that exclusive use of the water from Magnetic Spring would cure physical debility and aid in the overcoming drug addiction. Drug addiction was prevalent in the late Victorian era due to widespread use of patent medicines containing alcohol and narcotics."
When explorers from Europe discovered part of this native land, they also learned that the Native American tribes had long ascribed healing, life, and magical properties to springs. In Native American culture, water is highly regarded. Long before white men settled in the Eureka Springs area, the springs here were a sacred gathering place for Native Americans.
According to legend, from their perspective, a Sioux Princess suffered from an eye affliction and was healed with the waters. That mysterious story has been told here for centuries.
Predominantly Scottish and Irish immigrants settled across Arkansas, and it’s hardly a wonder that they were intrigued about these “magic healing waters.” As the population of Arkansas explored and settled the state, spring water became a source of life, providing sustenance for people and crops. In ancient Celtic tradition, springs were revered - as people threw coins into spring waters when a woman was pregnant as an offering for fertility and safe childbirth. Christianity would embrace baptism beneath water as becoming reborn into a new life. Our ancestors have passed down these ongoing beliefs about the power of water.
These conjectures that the many minerals in these springs would treat ailments is still a mystery to us all but it is the wonder of mystery that makes us explore life.
It is this spirit of exploration that drives my beautiful life in Eureka Springs, AR, I will continue to ascend the mountains of cheerfulness by daily scattering seeds of kindness along the way as best I can, and, should mists hide the mountaintop, I continue, undaunted, until I reach the sun-tipped heights of my life-experience.
Explore our beautiful springs and discover another magical mystery about Eureka!
Discovering Eureka is a series of chapters in a blog series where we seek to discover the unique things that make up Eureka Springs. There is so much to see, experience and explore here in Eureka Springs and in this series we will take time to give you the local perspective on what to do, where to go, what to see and how did this become something significant for our town. Take a moment to check out the different chapters in this blog series on www.iloveureka.com