High on the crest of West Mountain above the Victorian village of Eureka Springs, Arkansas is the historic—and frankly frightening—1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa. The large resort hotel is not only known as one of America’s most distinctive and historic destinations, but it is also renowned for its spirits. Spirits that are said to continue to walk the grounds of the hotel.
Built by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad, the hotel was designed by Isaac L. Taylor, a well-known Missouri architect who had designed a number of famous buildings in St. Louis. Twenty-seven acres at the north end of West Mountain was chosen for its majestic location overlooking the valley.
It was an important time in Eureka Springs’ history as the “healing waters” of the Ozarks had become well known across the nation. People from near and far were swarming to the area in hopes of curing their ailments and easing their pains. The developers of the Crescent Hotel & Spa planned to take advantage of these many travelers by building the most luxurious resort in the country.
Powell Clayton, a former governor of Arkansas from 1868 to 1870, formed the Eureka Springs Improvement Company in hopes of taking advantage of this prosperous period. Numerous stonemasons were brought in from Ireland to begin the construction in 1884. Designed in an eclectic array of architectural styles, the masons built 18-inch walls, a number of towers, overhanging balconies, and a massive stone fireplace in the lobby.
As construction continued for the next two years, more and more workmen were hired as electrical lights, modern plumbing, steam heating, an elevator, extensive landscaping, and luxurious decorations and amenities were built into the hotel. In the end, the hotel cost nearly $300,000 to build—an extremely large amount for the time.
On May 20, 1886, the grandiose Crescent Hotel opened among a midst of fanfare. The local Eureka Springs Times Echo called it “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” Notables from across the country attended its grand opening, which included a gala ball, complete with a full orchestra and banquet dinner for 400 celebrants. Offering large, airy rooms with exquisite furnishings, a dining room that once seated more than 500 people, and outside amenities that included a swimming pool, tennis courts and croquet among a beautiful landscape of flower gardens, winding boardwalks and gazebos, the opulence of the hotel was unmatched at the time.
Immediately, the well-to-do of the nation began to flock to the luxurious resort hotel as liveried footmen met them at the Frisco depot before transporting them to the inn. Once there, the guests could not only enjoy the healing waters of the spa, but also a stable of 100 sleek-coated horses, tea dances in the afternoon, and elaborate parties every evening with a full in-house orchestra.
However, the prosperity did not to last. After the turn of the century, people began to realize that the acclaimed “healing waters” didn’t have the curative powers that the hotel and the city were so known for. Little by little, people stopped coming to the beautiful resort.
Over the next few decades, the hotel passed through several hands as repairs and more restorations were made, but the hotel was never fully restored to its original grandeur. However, this all changed in 1997 when the historic inn was purchased by Marty and Elise Roenigk. In May 1997, the couple announced, “In five years, we pledge to have this Grand Lady of the Ozark’s back to where she was 100 years ago.” But Ozark residents, having heard these promises too many times before, were skeptical.
In 1997, the Roenigks began to rebuild the spas. That first year, a 6,500 square foot “New Moon Spa” opened, which included Vichy showers, a hydrotherapy tub, sauna, message and therapy tables, tanning beds, and exercise equipment. The next major project was to restore the hotel’s skyline which had been destroyed in the 1967 fire. Costing well over a million dollars, the 3,500 square foot penthouse, original center observation tower and the 200-pound, 24-foot-tall Crescent Moon weathervane were restored.