Now that I've actually been to Eureka Springs (population 2,350), located high up in the fabled Ozark Mountains, I'm still having a hard time believing that this place exists. It's just too good to be true. Certainly I've never encountered anything like it in the South.
I would like to describe it in a way that doesn't make me seem spellbound. Problem is, I think that's exactly what I am. So bear with me. I'll first try to articulate what this one-of-a-kind, Utopian town is like in words - and then in photos in a separate post.
Here are the phrases that come to mind. I apologize in advance for sounding so gushy. (Although perhaps that's only appropriate for a place with "springs" in its name.)
--A sylvan wonderland
--A hidden Bohemia
--A fairytale hamlet
--A hippie haven
--A model of historic preservation
--A bastion of tolerance
--A slice of the Swiss Alps located in Northwest Arkansas
--An unspoiled paradise
--A refuge for rebels
--An artist's retreat
--A step back in time
--A Victorian confection
--The smallest progressive town in the South
A few facts to back up these grandiose descriptions.
- Fact one. The entire town of Eureka Springs is on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the historic buildings, hotels, homes and cottages have been preserved, and the town looks much the same as it did at the turn of the century. Because the original industry (bottling spring water under the Ozarka label and running "healing" bathhouses) died, growth stopped, and the only industry left was tourism. So to stay alive, reinvention was necessary. Homes were renovated and turned into B&Bs. Now, there are over 70 B&Bs in this walkable (albeit with some steep stretches) mountain village.
- Fact two. In 2007, Eureka Springs became the first and only town in Arkansas to establish a Domestic Partnership Registry. It is one of just eight municipalities in the South to have a registry or extend rights to domestic partners. (The others are Atlanta, GA; West Palm Beach, FL; Broward County, FL; Chapel Hill, NC; Carborro, NC; New Orleans, LA; and Arlington, VA.)
Tellingly, the town motto is "Where Misfits Fit." Tucked away in the lush mountains here, no matter who you are, you are embraced and accepted here as long as you embrace and accept everyone else.
As enchanted as I am? Stay tuned for part two - "Eureka in Photos"!