Historic District seeks national recognition

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Looking at a copy of one of the original plat maps of Eureka Springs, Sandra Taylor-Smith, preservation consultant, left, explains how the map doesn't match the topography to Boyd Maher, state coordinator for the Certified Local Government (CLG) Program, and Kelli Peters, right, of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) office in Little Rock. Smith used the map as part of her presentation of Eureka's application for national significance on the Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places to the state review board Wednesday afternoon in Little Rock. Photo by Mary Jean Sell

EUREKA SPRINGS ----The first hurdle toward recognition of the Eureka Springs Historic District as "nationally significant" was easily cleared Wednesday as the Arkansas State Review Board approved the nomination application.

The Eureka Springs application was presented to the board in Little Rock by Sandra Taylor-Smith, preservation consultant and historian for North Little Rock.

Eureka's Certified Local Government (CLG) Coordinator Glenna Booth and City Clerk Mary Jean Sell were on hand for the half-hour presentation which included narration and 125 slides of structures in town.

Now that the application is approved by the state board, Smith will finalize the photographs and paperwork for submission to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

"Once it gets to the Washington office, they will have 45 days to make a decision," Smith said. "I hope to get everything finished and in the mail within the next week or so."

"This is the culmination of five years of work," Booth explained. "We have gotten $85,000 in grants from the CLG Program through the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP).

"The first four grants were to up-date the photographic survey of the town. The first one was done for the original application to become a historic district in 1970.

"Smith did the photography the first two years and Ron Lutz of Eureka did the last two years.

"Smith has been working the past year on research and writing the nomination. It had been a huge project."

Booth has assisted Smith with much of the local research.

When Eureka Springs was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, it was designated as having "local significance."

In the years since, the Department of the Interior/National Parks Service has reclassified its designations.

To have "national significance" means a district has a recognized place in the history of the country.

"It also makes Eureka Springs more attractive for some of the federal grant programs," Booth said.

"If we decided to apply for another Saving America's Treasures grant, like the one we got two years ago to renovate the auditorium, having national significance puts us in another category there."

Part of the application was to expand Eureka's "dates of significance" from 1880 to 1955, adding 35 years from the original time frame.

Everything within Eureka's city limits in 1970 was included within the historic district. Although the city limits have expanded since then, the district boundaries are unchanged.

In her 32-page application narrative, Smith says there are 966 properties in the district. Of those, 600 are residential, 101 commercial, five are public, 12 are churches and there are 12 natural springs.

The district contains 596 buildings constructed before 1955 of which 72 percent were built prior to 1910.

"The overwhelming character of the buildings is derived from the Victorian era," she wrote.

"Highly stylized versions of more than 20 different architectural influences are seen in the historic district.

"Natural elements are a significant part of the uniqueness of the district where houses and buildings are scattered over mountain tops, clinging to mountainsides, or nestling in the gorges of the city, each constructed uniquely to adapt to its terrain."

In the detailed "elaboration" portion of the application, Smith has explained the history of the community from its initial beginnings as an area where Native Americans came to camp and hunt by the more than 60 natural springs to the development of the city as a resort built around "healing springs."

She outlines the styles of architecture by 10 and 20-year periods of construction, then details the types of architectural styles in the district.

She lists examples of I-House, Carpenter Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Plain Traditional, Colonial Revival, American-Foursquare, Craftsman, Period Revival, Rustic, Minimal Traditional, Ranch and Contemporary.

She includes descriptions of building style of the hotels, tourist courts and motels along with churches and commercial buildings.

"The Eureka Springs Historic District is significant not only in its many outstanding individual buildings of note, or through its collective Victorian era appearance, but through the use of natural landscape as an integral part of the built environment," Smith wrote.

"The rugged terrain is highlighted throughout the city by historic limestone walls, sidewalks, stairways and paths.

"Historically, landscaping was an important feature of Eureka Springs, and much of the original landscape remains in place.

"The district is the most significant collection of Victorian era buildings in the upland south.

"Query of state historic preservation offices in the upland south indicate Eureka Springs Historic District is clearly the most significant representation of a Victorian era resort in this part of the country."

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