A Brief History of Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Legends of several tribes spoke of a Great Healing Spring in the mountains of what later became known as “Arkansas.” Early visitors believed this spring to be Basin Spring itself, and the magical waters drew the afflicted in such numbers that Eureka Springs transformed from an isolated wilderness to a flourishing city in a few short months. The waters would gain national acclaim with the beginning of Ozarka Bottling Company which continues today.

Basin Spring Park with wooden bandshell; trolley car in front. 1890s. ESHM Collection. BES 06-146

The first white settler to “discover” the healing springs is reputed to be Dr. Alvah Jackson, who 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.” 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 City of Eureka Springs was founded and named on July 4, 1879. As word of Eureka’s miraculous, healing waters began to spread, thousands of visitors flocked to the original encampment of tents and hastily built shanties. 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.

Crescent Hotel view from Magnolia Street. Crystal Terrace in right foreground. BES 01-014. ESPL Plate 12.

The Eureka Springs Improvement Company was formed in 1882 to bring the railroad to the city and to develop amenities to service the growing visitor population. Founded by carpetbagger, General Powell Clayton after his term as Arkansas Governor, Clayton would use his ties to the railroad and financial connections to the wealthy of St Louis to build his own town. Thousands of residences and commercial structures were built in just two short years with the construction of streets, water & sewer lines, an electric trolley and the world famous Crescent Hotel, serving as pinnacles of the Improvement Companies accomplishments. Many of these structures (nearly 2000) still exist today–so rigorously preserved that the entire town of Eureka Springs is on the National Register of Historic Places with national significance.


2021 Eureka Springs Online. History of Eureka Springs. Retrieved from eurekaspringsonline.com/history-of-eureka-springs.

(No date). Eureka Springs History. Retrieved from eurekasprings.com/historical.

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