Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friday Was Eureka Springs

First off, it was a “biker” weekend, and I don’t mean bicyclists. It was a good thing we didn’t stay at the historic Basin Park Hotel, right in the center of downtown, because we never would have slept.

The Town

Eureka Springs is one of those unforgettable towns, a place that makes an impression on you. If you don’t understand the Ozarks or what its hills and hollers are capable of, Eureka Springs is a great place to start. I dare you not to fall in love with the place.

The landscape is incredibly hilly; the roads curve and switchback. Many are quite steep. They are narrow. You can see why bikers would love the place. The architecture is antique, colorful, charming, stately. There are many, many Victorian homes with gorgeous paint jobs. Larger institutional buildings, hotels, businesses, and the like are made with stone. Many of the oldest sidewalks are of well-worn stone, and not concrete.

Because of the topography, you can enter a building, go down three or even four flights of stairs, and emerge again on ground level. There are stairways that compete well with those in Montmartre.

To assist in the tourist congestion, the town has a trolley system, enabling you to park at your motel and ride all around the town—what a wonderful and progressive idea.

You get the idea that there are plenty of progressive and creative types in the town. There is a lot of whimsy in architectural ornamentation and yard sculptures. The gardens, flowers, and landscaping are profuse, informal, and cheerful. It reminds me of places like Santa Fe, Jerome, Arizona, or San Francisco: Artist colony, hippies, free-thinkers, creative writers, cooks who enjoy ethnic influences, people who color outside the lines. Walking around the town, you see cool things that people have done with old stuff, junk, and other simple things, and it inspires you with crafty ideas.

The Springs

I don’t know what the official count is, but there must be dozens of natural springs in the area. Several of these are well-known historic spots and have been preserved by the town, made into nicely landscaped little town parks, with interpretive signs nearby.

It is a little hard today to imagine what it was like in the late 1800s when people were such believers in the health benefits of water. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I encourage you to read the first hundred or so pages of Loring Bullard’s Healing Waters: Missouri’s Historic Mineral Springs and Spas, which provides a great explanation of the thinking before modern allopathic medicine and microbiology became the leading pathways for understanding and fighting disease.

The “taking of waters” goes back at least to biblical days and to Classical times, and hot springs, mineral springs, sulfur springs, artesian wells, sweet springs, and so forth were conceived of as part of God’s gift to mankind, like food and medicinal herbs, things put here to help us live.

By the late 1800s, doctors who specialized in mineral water treatments were codifying water-based treatments for specific complaints and diseases that involved drinking, bathing in, and soaking in various types of mineral waters. Anecdotal evidence fueled faith in the efficacy of these treatments.

I mean, people really took this seriously, and state governments hired geologists to conduct surveys of the state’s spring locations, their rate of output, and the various types of waters that flowed forth. Think of it this way: If Paxil, Vicodin, and Prednisone seeped naturally out of the ground, today’s governments would want to have an inventory of those resource riches, too.

But now it’s mostly a quaint old memory, though the waters still flow forth out of the ground and, in Eureka Springs, in stone grottos and basins built a hundred years ago. There are drinking fountains at many of the park springs, and yes, the waters taste sweet and cold and clean. If you go, bring some empty jugs with you.

Also, bring a nice book, your paints, or your writing pad. You’ll want to spend some quiet time in Eureka Springs, sitting on a park bench somewhere, or on a little patio or porch at the hotel or B&B where you’re staying. There are lots of sweet little cottages where you can stay, or, like us, you can opt for a hotel. Next, we’re gonna talk up the Bavarian Inn. Stay tuned.

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