Branson, MO Thursday Nov. 7
Ripley’s Believe It or Not stretched the facts we believe (details scattered throughout this post). Ripley’s called Eureka Springs one of the ten most unusual cities in America. We spent the daylight hours in Eureka Springs, AR. It is but a slight, 70 minute drive from Branson over the usual curvy, hilly, two lane roads with no shoulders. A few days ago we gave a very brief history of Eureka Springs that probably just whetted your appetites for more. (See Oct. 30th)
Eureka Springs (ES is simpler for me) is a thriving tourist town, with numerous art galleries and local crafts people. In fact, (Jude will love this) an article in the local Eureka Springs’ paper was discussing travel to Taos, NM which the article described as the Eureka Springs of NM. We took a 2.5 hour narrated van tour with 5 other visitors of the town.
ES is built on hills around various valleys or “hollers”. (Hollow-get it?) Because of the hills, streets do not follow any grid system and thus, as Ripley states, ES has no cross streets that are perpendicular to each other. From our observation this is true, although one intersection comes pretty close. (Claim one of Ripley, pretty much okay.)
The entire town is listed on the National Historic Register and supposedly has the largest intact collection of mid-Victorian homes in one place. The homes are attractive, but a large number are used for bed and breakfast inns. The rest seem to be artist galleries.
There are over 60 springs in town. ES sprouted dramatically in population around 1879 and after due to the medicinal value of the springs. It was later discovered that the mineral water has a high level of zinc which does help heal sores and wounds. ES population shrank as more modern medicine came into being. You can still access spring water but drinking it is not recommended due to E. coli bacteria. One building has entrances on three sides, each on a different street with a different grade and different address. Ripley’s claim here is substantiated. (Oh, yes, prostitution was legal here too as we passed one building previously a bordello.)
Besides the B and B’s, there are two old hotels in town, the Crescent and the Basin Park Hotel. Ripley stated that the Basin had seven floors of rooms and all are considered ground floors. Well, while seven floors exist, and with exits, the exits are fire escapes to the ground in back of the building. Not quite ground floors. A little bit of fudging on Ripley’s part.
The Crescent is near the top of the town and offers a grand view of the surrounding area. Supposedly it is haunted. It offers ghost tours in the evening. Across the street from the Crescent is the Church of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The church is small, only about 12 pews. Not as small as the chapel in Spillville, IA but small. Ripley has this as the only church you enter through the bell tower. This claim is a real stretch. The bell tower has a walkway/walkthrough that you pass through to continue on the sidewalk leading to the church. No big deal. A clear miss for Ripley.
ES grew again partially due to the construction of the 67′ tall Christ of the Ozarks statue and then the beginning of the holding of the Great Passion Play here in the mid-1960s. Soon after, country music theater and Thorncrown Chapel arrived later to be followed by tour buses, bed and breakfast inns, artists, etc.
Weddings are big business in ES. When we were waiting for the van tour to begin, a couple in their 70s was looking for a location to get married. They brought their own minister. In ES, no blood tests, no witnesses, no waiting periods, just $60 and you are hitched.
Thorncrown Chapel was actually our first stop on the tour. It is small but holds 300 weddings per year. The church music director played the organ and sang for us to demonstrate the acoustics. It was built as a labor of love. The architect was a professor and while having worked/studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, had not designed religious spaces before and the project ran out of money before completion. It took three years and a woman from Illinois to answer the owner’s prayer before the chapel was completed. The chapel was recently ranked by American Institute of Architects as fourth on its list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.
Another stop was the Bank of Eureka Springs Museum housed in a downtown bank branch that has been restored to the feel of an earlier period. Memorabilia adorns every room, providing a treasure trove of history that should eventually be added to the Ralph Foster Museum at College of the Ozarks (in our opinion.)
Shoppers we are not so we left downtown and gave $9 to a cheesy, roadside attraction showcasing “Pivot Rock” and “Natural Bridge.” The pictures came out well, it was a pleasant walk, and probably a better use of our money than two alcoholic drinks. The rock and bridge were not dramatic.
Today’s weather was excellent so this evening we drove the Trail of Lights. This 2.5 mile drive-through trail showcased a wide variety of Christmas lights and themes. It is held on the grounds of the outdoor theater playing the “Sheperd of the Hills” during warmer months.
Sheperd of the Hills, you may recall from an earlier post, was a novel set in the Ozarks and written in the early 1900s which became extremely well-known. It was one of the reasons for the growth of Branson as people came here to see the scenes mentioned in the novel. BUT, time marches on and the outdoor play had its last showing in October.
There are two other outdoor lighting displays and while this was enjoyable, we now do not plan to see a second.
Long post I know. Hope you enjoyed at least a portion of it.
Ed and Chris Thursday November 7 Midnight.