Living History: A Tour of Eureka Springs’ Historic Hotels
Eureka Springs is exceedingly proud of its history, in large part because its history is so colorful. (How many other towns of 2,000 residents have their own historical museum?) In the latter part of the 1800s, Eureka Springs was a boom town, as people from all over the country flocked to this small Ozark Mountain retreat, lured by the “healing” powers of our many natural springs.
That myth didn’t last, of course, and Eureka Springs spent much of the 20th Century out of the limelight. In the 1970s, a preservation movement took hold, and many of the Victorian buildings — quite a few of which were near ruin — underwent restorations. The city’s decades-long revitalization effort is perhaps best represented by five historic hotels and one inn located in the heart of downtown.
Here’s an overview, with a bit of hotel history included in each entry:
Situated at the highest point in Eureka Springs, the Crescent offers magnificent views of downtown and the surrounding landscape. With 78 rooms and suites, gorgeous grounds, and a bevy of amenities and activities, it is among the most renowned upscale resorts in the Mid-South, and is fondly known as the “Grand Dame of the Ozarks.” The hotel has three restaurants — The Crystal Dining Room, SkyBar Gourmet Pizza and Top of the Crest — the first-class New Moon Spa, and is widely hailed for its famous (and fun) Ghost Tours (as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel”). The Crescent also offers a variety of daily activities.
The Crescent opened in 1886 as a retreat for the wealthy, but in just a few years it closed. From 1908 to 1934, it was the site of a boarding school for girls, then changed hands over subsequent decades. The property was certainly in need of upkeep by the time Marty and Elise Roenigk acquired it in 1997. The preservation-minded couple instituted an ambitious, multi-year plan to restore the Crescent to its former glory. One visit proves that they more than succeeded.
If you want to experience the Crescent for yourself, there’s no better way to do it than with someone you love. Take advantage of their Couples Time promotion through September 3 and enjoy a suite for the price of a standard room. Learn more here.
How can every level of an eight-story hotel be considered a ground floor? When it’s built into the side of a mountain like the 1905 Basin Park Hotel. Each of the rear facade’s floors features an exit to “ground level” via a short footbridge to the mountainside. Constructed of limestone and pink dolomite, the Basin Park Hotel offers a range of accommodations, from standard rooms to luxe specialty suites on the higher floors, all with balcony access. The Balcony Bar & Restaurant serves elevated pub food, and Jack Rabbett’s Whisky Bar — with its wood floors, pool tables and big-screen TVs — is simply a cool place to hang out. Spa 1905 offers a full scope of services and a generous outdoor space where guests can mingle.
The Basin Park Hotel has gone through a number of iterations, most notoriously during the 1940s and ‘50s when it was an illegal gambling mecca that served unlicensed alcohol and provided a haven for Chicago gangsters. That period came to an abrupt end when in 1955 a new county sheriff named Erwin “The Weasel” Deweese led a raid to rid the town of its criminal element. The Basin Park Hotel quickly regained its respectability and, as far as anyone is aware, has not housed an illicit slot machine since.
If you want to get a taste of what made this unique hotel every Chicago gangster’s favorite getaway, you can get a “killer” deal with a mid-week stay. Learn more about how you can get a room for as low as $99.
The three-story inn makes quite an impression with its facade of bold red brick, rimmed with a white porch and balcony. The Elmwood offers four distinct suites on two floors, all of them approximately 500 square feet with 10-foot ceilings, jacuzzi tubs and an old-timey ambience. They’re each named after one of the springs that run throughout the city. The ground-floor units have access to a wrap-around front porch, while the second-floor suites, which you access via an outdoor stairway, share a balcony.
The structure was originally built as a private residence in 1883 by a man named Ellar Elwood, and sold two years later to T. Elwood Clark. (Somewhere along the line, an “m” got added to the name.) The place has been a lodging establishment since 1886. These days, it’s known for homey comfort and privacy. Nearly all the inn’s 128 ecstatic TripAdvisor reviews have notched five bullets.
The 14 suites in this elegant Victorian property are separated into three types, the most opulent of which is the Grand Suite, with two bedrooms, two baths and separate living and dining areas. The others are plush one-bedroom units. All include English antiques, high ceilings, period wallpaper and beautiful oak floors. The hotel includes a spa for quiet indulgence, as well as one of the favorite restaurants in town, the Grand Taverne, which has a lounge with a full bar.
The Grand Central opened in 1880 as the Connor Hotel, and acted as a stagecoach terminal for passengers — many of them well-off Easterners — seeking the area’s healing waters. The building burned in 1890 and was replaced by a new one constructed of brick, the first in Eureka Springs. Over time, the Grand Central fell into disrepair and by 1985 had a date with the wrecking ball. But people who understood its historic significance stepped in and mounted a full-on renovation, carefully preserving its Victorian atmosphere and surpassing its original splendor. The building pays homage to its past with an exterior of weathered brick and green awnings.
A touch of the French Quarter in downtown Eureka Springs. You might miss the small, unassuming sign, replete with a fleur-de-lis, but the wrought-iron balconies are sure to catch your eye. The interior is even better — its lobby built of lovingly preserved woodwork, with an ornate ceiling, comfy furniture, and period furnishings and antiques. Off to the right, you’ll find a grand wooden staircase that goes up four stories. The hotel includes 21 guest units, 18 of which are suites, each featuring the work of a local artist. All of them have balcony access. And guests of the New Orleans have been known to rave about its attentive and helpful staff.
The hotel opened in 1892 as the Wadsworth, with 50 rooms, and boasting “steam heat, hot and cold water, and baths.” Over the years it was known as the Allred (rooms starting at $2.50) and the Springs Hotel, finally getting its current name in 1954. The New Orleans ranks No. 5 in the U.S. News & World Report list of Best Arkansas Hotels.
Made of rusticated limestone, the Palace was fashioned after a European castle, and more than 120 years later maintains its regal air. The hotel’s exterior sign, still a downtown must-see after the sun sets, is reputed to have been the first neon sign in the city. The hotel has eight suites outfitted in opulent Victorian style, each with a large jacuzzi for two and a complimentary mini-bar. And the Palace is within easy walking distance of some of the best restaurants Eureka Springs has to offer.
Back in 1901, when the Palace opened, bath houses were big in Eureka Springs. At the Palace, a bath cost 50 cents and a steam ran a buck. The hotel had electric lights and steam heat in every room, as well as an electric elevator. Comedian W.C. Fields was a noted regular. The Palace boasts the only remaining bath house in Eureka Springs, but it has been expanded into the full-service Bath House Spa, where you can get a eucalyptus steam treatment in a wood barrel, among other indulgences.