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Passages To A Secret World : Eureka Springs Underground

 Underground Passage Ways And Ally Ways That Are Said To Lead To A Secret World Underneath Eureka Springs

Under The City In Eureka Springs [Courtesy/Eureka Springs CAPC]

The legend of the Eureka Springs Underground was born in the dark alleyways and subterranean creeks that lie beneath these Arkansas hills. The town is full of legends, from the healing powers of the spring waters that gush from the hills, to the ghosts that inhabit the picturesque Crescent Hotel.

But underneath the old Basin Springs Bath House, founded in the 19th century, there is a passage to a secret world. The hallway in the dark seemingly opens to a town forgotten – or buried – by early residents. Down here visitors can see an old storefront buried 20 feet beneath the modern streets. The existence of this passageway is a mysterious and legendary aspect of this town.

Local lore has it that early builders of Eureka Springs had built too low for the basin run-off, and it turned two streets into a lake of mud every time it rained. To get the city on more solid footing, they raised the streets, burying a bevvy of old businesses and storefronts in the process.  Some guided tours in the area cater to that version of the urban myth.

Butch Berry, the current mayor of Eureka Springs, isn’t so sure. An architect by trade, Berry completed a study in 2008 of the town’s subterranean features to discover the real Eureka Underground.  He cautions against the idea of a buried Atlantis of the Ozarks.

“We [have] never found any real evidence that the street had actually been raised up,” Berry states. The storefront, he hypothesizes, was put there as a creative reuse of building materials when other buildings had burned. There were several major fires in this town in its early history – in 1883, 1888, 1890, and 1893. The entire infrastructure had almost been wiped out in the last conflagration, before the city folk passed a law that new structures be made from brick or stone.

Stephanie Stodden, a local historian, explains that Eureka Springs was a boomtown of 15,000 in the early 1880s, just years after its founding. It continues to draw an eclectic set of artists and transplants.

Getting A Look Into The Underground Tunnel [Courtesy/Eureka Springs CAPC]

“It is a melting pot – definitely not a lot like other places,” Stodden said of the town. “I’ve heard if you don’t feel like you fit in other places then people come to Eureka Springs. They fit in here.”

The town’s buildings remind Stodden of New Orleans architecture, and the way they are arrayed on the hillside with narrow, winding streets, gives Eureka Springs a distinctly European feel. Even if there isn’t a whole city beneath the modern Eureka Springs, that is certainly not the whole story. A cobweb of dark passages connects many points of town, as well as a long creek that flows through several caverns in the underground. The phenomenon, some claim, is that Victorian-era building codes required escape passages from basements. Other passageways may have been used as a way into 19th century brothels, to keep their patrons sight-unseen.

“As a child I used to run up and down those alleyways … playing and exploring,” recalls Berry.  “Growing up it was just great because you did have these tunnels and accesses underneath the sidewalks. I lived right across from the Basin [Springs] Bath House. That alley way was a hangout for boys.”

Some alleyways run right under the modern sidewalks, and there are probably a quarter mile of them that finger through the coarse valley floor on which Eureka was built. Small glass squares are installed on the street-side sidewalks, providing a bit of sunlight down into the underground.  But, officially, the majority of these underworld alleys are inaccessible, as they can only be entered through private property. That said, kids continue to find their way into these dark halls for general rabblerousing and exploring, navigating from one point to the other without setting foot on the surface.

Then there is the underground creek.  The town was built right on its bloodline and a system of run-off channels was likely built into the foundations to alter its course which comes from the top of the forested valley. While some areas of the creek are just a few feet tall, others spaces have created a whole other-worldly series of chambers and caverns.

Crescent Hotel In Eureka Springs In 1886
Going Underground [Courtesy/Eureka Springs CAPC]

One of those caverns sits directly below the Eureka Springs Public Auditorium.

“You’d be walking underneath the buildings, and you’d come up and you can see the floor beams 20 feet above you in this great cavernous space,” Berry recalls from his youth. The wooden floor was the basement level of this topside structure. Visitors in the auditorium who sit on the basement level can actually hear the creek running beneath the floor even today.

The healing water of the springs, which was once the main draw, is no longer consumed though. Indeed, it is illegal to drink it because of contamination.

Further up the hill, The Crescent Hotel, a giant Victorian structure made of limestone, sits overlooking the town on the mountaintop. While some claim that an old tunnel connects the hotel to the rest of the underground, it has yet to be unearthed. Still, the hotel – and its ghostly inhabitants -- has become another aspect town’s lore.

Legend has it that spirits roam the halls of this 140-year old structure: Ghosts like Michael, an Irish stoneworker who fell to his death while working the structure in 1885. Theodora, a nurse who worked at the Crescent when it was a cancer hospital, is still lurking about, looking for her room keys. A ghost tour at the hotel is available at the hotel for those given to such otherworldly speculation.

To the point of whether the Eureka Underground is an actual city or not, or just the byproduct of multiple rebuilds in a topologically challenged area, the town clearly hides many mysteries in its depths and intrigue lurks just below the surface.

 

David Irvin

A graduate with a Masters Of Science from the University Of North Texas, David has written on many beats including crime and business for such outlets as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Montgomery Advertiser & USA. He enjoys RVing and surfing the Internet.

Eureka Springs KOA

Make Sure To Stay At:

Eureka Springs KOA, offering big-rig friendly, full-hookup pull thru sites as well as Cabins and unique rentals. All the RV Sites/rentals have cable TV and are only 10 minutes from downtown Eureka Springs with all its shopping, dining and attractions.

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