The entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places as the Eureka Springs Historic District. Eureka Springs has been selected as one of America’s Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Eureka Springs was originally called “The Magic City” and later the “Stairstep Town” because of its mountainous terrain and the winding, up-and-down paths of its streets and walkways.
It is a tourist destination for its unique character as a Victorian resort village. The city has steep winding streets filled with Victorian-style cottages and manors. The historic commercial downtown of the city has an extensive streetscape of well-preserved Victorian buildings. The buildings are primarily constructed of local stone, built along streets that curve around the hills and rise and fall with the topography in a five-mile long loop. Some buildings have street-level entrances on more than one floor. The streets wind around the town, and no two intersect at a 90 degree angle; there are no traffic lights.
Native American legends tell of a Great Healing Spring in the Eureka Springs area. People of various indigenous cultures long visited the springs for this sacred purpose.
The European Americans also believed that the springs had healing powers. After the Europeans arrived, they described the waters of the springs as having magical powers. Dr. Alvah Jackson was credited in American history with locating the spring, and in 1856 claimed that the waters of Basin Spring had cured his eye ailments. Dr. Jackson established a hospital in a local cave during the Civil War and used the waters from Basin Spring to treat his patients. After the war, Jackson marketed the spring waters as “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water”.
In 1879 Judge J.B. Saunders, a friend of Jackson, claimed that his crippling disease was cured by the spring waters. Saunders started promoting Eureka Springs to friends and family members across the state and created a boomtown. Within a period of little more than one year, the city expanded from a rural spa village to a major city. Within a short time in the late 19th century, Eureka Springs developed as a flourishing city, spa and tourist destination.
On February 14, 1880, Eureka Springs was incorporated as a city. Thousands of visitors came to the springs based on Saunders’ promotion and covered the area with tents and shanties. In 1881, Eureka Springs enjoyed the status of Arkansas’s fourth largest city, and by 1889 it had become the second largest city, behind Little Rock.