Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (1886), Eureka Springs, Arkansas*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The history of the 1886 Crescent Hotel is linked to the presence of the waters of more than 60 springs in the Eureka Springs area. For centuries, native American tribes took advantage of the healing powers of the natural spring water for bathing, therapy and drinking. In the late 19th century, thousands of tourists visited Eureka Springs and spurred Midwest railroad owners to build a luxury hotel. The new Crescent Hotel was owned by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company headed by Powell Clayton who served as Governor of Arkansas, United States Senator and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
The Eureka Springs Times Echo reported on May 20, 1886:
It was two years ago that Powell Clayton and his associates chose the site of the new Crescent Hotel… twenty seven acres at the north end of West mountain, a majestic location overlooking the valley. The commissioning of Isaac Taylor as architect was announced and construction commenced.
Seldom has such a formidable construction undertaking been accomplished with such efficiency. Special wagons were constructed to transport the huge pieces of magnesium limestone from the quarry site on the White River near Beaver. Due to the density of this special stone, and the precision necessary in cutting and fitting, a group of specialist from Ireland was brought here to assist and advise in construction.
Mr. O’Shawnessey, the spokesman and leader of the imported group, was interviewed by this reporter before his return to Ireland. We recall that “Throughout the many years of his stoneworking, he has never encountered a stone with such density and quality as the White River Limestone.” He predicts it will become a popular building stone in the future and further stated that because of its unique characteristics, would withstand the destructive forces of time and retain its original beauty for many years to come.
The magnificent structure was then furnished in the most exquisite manner. It is lighted with Edison lamps, furnished with electric bells, heated with steam and open grates, has a hydraulic elevator, and is truly a showplace of today’s conveniences.
When the Crescent Hotel opened on May 20, 1886, the local newspaper called it “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” Ladies in long skirts, hats and veils and gentlemen in top hats danced to the strains of a live orchestra. The Crystal Dining Room served such delectable treats as Crab Lorenzo, a dish still on the menu today. One of the most prominent guests at the opening was James G. Blaine, former U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and a candidate for president in 1884, who lost a close race to Grover Cleveland. Other attendees included U.S. federal judges, State Supreme Court justices and many high-ranking military men.
“A stable with a hundred sleek-coated horses was provided for the guests’ riding pleasure on early morning canters over the trails. Often as many as 75 riders could be seen making their way along some remote mountain trail – the ladies in their long skirts, hats and veils, mounted fashionably on sidesaddles while the gentlemen were gallantly astride mounts with English saddles.”
“Visitors could enjoy tea dances during the afternoon and dance parties each evening with music provided with an in-house orchestra maintained by the hotel. Other forms of recreating available to the guest included picnics, hiking, streetcar rides, and the ever-popular Tallyho rides to Sanitarium Lake or some other attraction locale. The Tally Ho was a large open coach drawn by teams of four, six or eight horses.”
The hotel was purchased by the Frisco Railroad in 1905 to build train ridership from the Chicago and St. Louis areas. In 1908, due to a decline in hotel occupancy, the hotel was occupied by the Crescent College & Conservatory for Young Women. The college closed in 1934 because of the tough economic conditions brought on by the Great Depression.
In 1937, the hotel was purchased by Dr. Norman Baker, a flamboyant quack who made extravagant medical claims and boasted that he could cure cancer with injections of a mixture of glycerine, alcohol and tea brewed from watermelon seeds and clover leaves. The hotel became the Baker Cancer Hospital and treated many sick and desperate people. After the Charlstan Baker was arrested and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth Federal Prison, the hotel was sold and renovated by Chicago businessmen in 1946.
For the next fifty years, the Crescent Hotel was owned by numerous investors and operated as a vacation resort and a wedding and honeymoon destination until 1997 when it was purchased by Marty and Elise Roenigk. They are antique lovers and historic preservationists from Connecticut who also bought another historic hotel, the 1905 Basin Park Hotel and recently added War Eagle Mill, a working, turn-of-the-century grist mill with shop and restaurant. The Roenigks’ dedication has seen the addition of the New Moon Spa, Dr. Baker’s Bistro & Sky Bar, the East Lawn Wedding Venue, the Conservatory, Cottages at Crescent Park, Annex Suites, the development of the surrounding gardens plus the near total renovation of all guestrooms. In 2011, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa celebrated its 125th anniversary.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.