By Judy Brotton
Our readers have suggested we travel outside Oklahoma’s borders and write about one of their favorite weekend getaway locations – Eureka Springs, Arkansas. According to Mike Bishop, president of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, Oklahomans number second only to local visitors in this scenic Ozark Mountain town.
“The City That Water Built”
For hundreds of years, Native Americans had believed in the healing powers of the many springs in the valley of present-day Eureka Springs – once thought to be the site of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. As invalids and health seekers flocked to the area, a town grew up around the 63 live springs. Hundreds of wooden structures dotted the hillsides, from small cottages and boarding houses to fine hotels. A festive atmosphere prevailed, as music played in Basin Spring Park and visitors hiked from spring to spring, walking stick and tin cup in hand, to “take of the waters.”
Fire was the greatest danger. Three “Great Fires” in the late 1800s destroyed most of the early wooden buildings, so brick and native limestone were used to rebuild. By the turn of the century, Eureka Springs had the third largest population in Arkansas – the city had a railroad, electricity and the springs. Peaking in 1905, the time of healing waters had all but ended by 1910.
Today, Eureka Springs is a terrific destination for all types of vacationers. For water sport enthusiasts, there are Beaver Lake’s 500 miles of shoreline and 30,000 acres of crystal-clear water. Table Rock Lake winds down from Branson; Kings River and the White River border the city. Lake Leatherwood City Park, the fifth largest city recreation area in the United States, has 85 acres of spring-fed water surrounded by 1,600 acres of Ozark Mountain countryside.
Lodgings abound, from old-fashioned motor courts and historic hotels to modern motels, secluded cabins, safari-like tree houses and scores of cozy B&B inns.
Distinctly Oklahoma enjoyed the comforts of The Heartstone Inn, a B&B located on the downtown Historic Loop. Owners Rick and Cheri Rojek purchased the 1903 Victorian home a dozen years ago after corporate careers, opting for a quieter life in Eureka Springs. Rick prepares a gourmet breakfast for guests each morning, while Cheri bakes breakfast treats, plus sinful brownies and cookies for afternoon snacks. In fact, recipes from their wonderful kitchen appear in this issue of Distinctly Oklahoma.
The Grand Tour
First time visitors will want to explore the entire Historic Loop. Although Eureka Springs was and still is a walking town, for those with walking issues, the Eureka Springs Trolley runs every 15-20 minutes.
Another option is a Eureka Van Tour, hosted by Michelle McDonald in the guise of “Savilatea Grace deChorum,” offering stops at many of the sights and a detailed history of the area, including stories involving some of the town’s most notorious characters and incidents.
Food, Glorious Food!
Old Main Street, bordered by Leatherwood Creek, was lower in elevation than Spring Street and prone to frequent flooding, prompting the nickname “Mud Street.” When the town was rebuilt after the Great Fires, Main Street was raised to the second-story level of buildings, turning ground floors into basements. The “Downtown-n-Underground” tour takes you through many buildings with doors and windows that were once aboveground.
Mud Street Café is one such “underground” location. Upon entering the front door, one immediately walks down a flight of stairs to what was once the ground floor. Known for their award-winning breakfast and lunch menu, the eatery offers freshly baked scones, muffins and espresso service, with menu choices that include Breakfast Croissants, Mexican and Greek Omelets, Veggie Hash Browns or Grits and Mud Muffins.
In the heart of historic downtown sits Local Flavor Café, a favorite of locals and visitors for the past decade for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and Sunday brunch. Chef-owned and operated by sixth-generation Eureka Springs native Britt Evans, the café is an eclectic mix of fine wines and half-pound burgers, Fish Tacos and Jamaican Jerk Prime Rib. Their various menus include Gingerbread Waffles, Prime Rib & Eggs, Baked Brie, Pear Pistou salad, Crab Cakes, regular or Turkey Reuben and a dessert Cheese Plate.
Located in The Quarter is Lovin’ Oven Bakeria, described as a “bakery that married a Pizzeria.” This great little place serves fabulous from-scratch pizzas – whole, by the slice, New York-style or deep-dish Chicago-style. There are also appetizers, soups, salads and, of course, desserts in the “Bakeria” – muffins, scones, brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls and fruity streusel bars.
Chef James DeVito opened the highly acclaimed DeVito’s of Eureka Springs in 1988 for fine Italian cuisine. James daily prepares the fresh pastas, sauces and Italian bread, while his wife, Teresa Pellicio, often bartends and acts as hostess. Long-time headwaiter Howard Aleshire explains that trout is the signature dish, harking back to the 1950s when DeVito’s grandfather, Albert Raney, started his first local trout farm. The menu includes the house specialty, Trout Italiano – boneless, butterflied trout sautéed in olive oil and garlic – plus entrées like Chicken Bolognese, Pork Loin Capperi, Veal Piccata; Eggplant, Chicken or Trout Parmesan; New York Strip, Chargrilled or Lemon Trout, and Filet Mignon.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh Yes!
A tour of the 400-acre Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge brings one just three feet (and two fences) away from lions, tigers, ligers (a hybrid cross between a male lion and tigress, existing only in captivity), cougars, leopards and bears. Some were rescued from troubled zoos, but most from private owners who purchased cubs as exotic pets and relinquished them as adults. Animals are kept in cages when first rescued; larger natural habitats are built for them over time.
Visitors are encouraged to attend the daily 5 p.m. feeding of some 1,000 pounds of chicken, donated by Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart. Staff Zoologist Laurie Vanderwal and the rest of the TCWR staff are on hand to guide tours.
A Mecca for Artists and Art Lovers Alike
A legacy of Alice Walton, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open near Wal-Mart’s home base in Bentonville, Arkansas on November 11. The museum will house Walton’s vast collection of American art from the Colonial era to the present, concentrating on the 19th and 20th centuries
Eureka Springs is home to more than 20 galleries and over 200 working artists. The nationally recognized Eureka Springs School of the Arts recently celebrated its lucky 13th anniversary, and attracts over 600 students and 50 instructors from around the United States and several foreign countries. Classes are offered in every medium imaginable – painting, lampworking, bookmaking, pottery, metalsmithing, glassworking, basketry and more. Roger Muterspaugh, CEO of ESSA, has already implemented growth, with several new studios on the 40-acre facility and plans for a residential facility for students and instructors in future.
A Night at the Opera
At nearby Inspiration Point, behind a bright blue cinderblock wall, nestles the Opera in the Ozarks – home to a 60-year tradition of preparing young high school and college graduates for a career in opera, while offering audiences the experience of professional-quality live performances. The students, national and international, study and practice during the four-week summer workshop, then present three operas during the next month. Oklahoma’s own Leona Mitchell spent a summer here.
A Woodland Sanctuary
Thorncrown Chapel is the vision of Jim Reed, a former schoolteacher from southern California. Designed in the Organic Prairie style by E. Fay Jones, disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, over five million visitors have passed through this place of inspiration since it opened in July 1980. Jones later designed the nearby Worship Center, which holds up to 350 guests for larger weddings and seminars.
Although Jim Reed passed away in 1985, his wife, Dell, 81, still works at the chapel, while their son, Doug, is the pastor of this “traveling ministry.”
Patricia Taylor, Thorncrown’s Minister of Music for the past 28 years, plays piano and sings during the 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services … an inspirational experience in the chapel designed to blend with nature. Jim Reed succeeded in his vision of creating an uplifting place for weary travelers.
A Mansion Fit For a Queen
In 1891, Curtis Wright originally built the beautiful Queen Anne Mansion in Carthage, Mo. for his wife and eight children. Almost a century later, the home was purchased by Ron and Mary Lou Evans for $160,000, dismantled piece by piece and moved to its present location in Eureka Springs. Each stone was numbered, and the house was sawed into pieces fitting onto 40 flatbed trucks. It took a year to dismantle and rebuild, at a cost of $500,000.
The 12,000-square-foot home was purchased in 2005 by current owners Steve and Lata Lovell, who began a major restoration project and finally opened the mansion as a museum in May 2010, offering a glimpse of genteel elegance and wealthy life in a bygone era.
On Top of Crescent Mountain
In 2011, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa celebrated its 125th anniversary. Sitting amid 27 acres of woods, hiking and walking trails, the beautifully landscaped gardens are lush with flowers and butterflies in spring and summer months. Martin and Elise Roenigk purchased the hotel in 1997, beginning “The Rebirth of a Legend” into what is today a mountaintop spa resort on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Known for “guests who checked out but never left,” the Crescent, called “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” hosts nightly ghost tours for paranormal enthusiasts. Learn about more than a dozen ghosts, including Michael, the strapping Irish stonemason, and the “ghost in the morgue.”
Originally built as a resort hotel, from 1908 to 1932 the Crescent College & Conservatory was founded to educate young women during the hotel’s off-season; it closed to guests in 1937 when “Dr.” Norman Baker purchased the “Castle in the Air” and operated it as Dr. Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital. A morgue in the basement came in handy since rumor had it he “killed more patients than he cured.”
Visitors can enjoy the “leisurely art of dining” at The Crystal Dining Room, where meals consist of five full courses: soup, salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert; but first, a cheese tray with garlicky crostini, three types of cheese, pesto and two varieties of smoked olive oil for dipping. Maitre d’ Ryan Muniz recommended the Signature Crescent Strawberry Soup and the Crab Lorenzo appetizer, first served at the Crescent Hotel’s grand opening.
Entrées include Pecan Salmon, a Crescent classic for over a decade, and 10-spice Beef Tenderloin Filet, seasoned with their award-winning spice rub. Their “Farm to Table” and “Pasture to Plate” concept ensures all-natural, organic and antibiotic-free produce and meats, from local farmers and vendors.
Not to be Missed
Citizen’s Bank, site of the Great Bank Robbery of 1922, which marked the first automobile used in a bank heist;
The Great Passion Play, featuring over 250 actors and live animals;
The many Eureka Springs oddities named in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”
Unfortunately, the weekend is over, but there are many more sights to see. You’ll just have to plan another trip to Eureka Springs.
www.eurekasprings.org for calendar of upcoming events, complete restaurant menus, plus a list of all local lodgings and sights mentioned.
www.eurekaspringsthenandnow.org for a complete history of Eureka Springs.