Newell-Mack was born in Kansas City, Mo., but when she was an adolescent, her father, at age 45, had a massive heart attack that almost killed him. Disabled from it, he moved the family to Sulphur Springs, Ark., in Benton County, where other family members made their home.
"It had a population of 500 people," Newell-Mack said. "You can imagine what it's like for a teenager moving from a big city to a little place no one ever heard of."
Like Eureka Springs, Sulphur Springs became renowned as a place of healing because of its several springs, including Lithia, Magnesia, White Sulphur and Black Sulphur.
"They all had signs listing the ailments they would supposedly cure," Newell-Mack said. "My dad drank the water for his heart and sat in the spring water at Philadelphia Spa. My grandmother said Lithia (from which the word "lithium" is derived) calmed her nerves."
Newell-Mack's father lived to be 72, even though he had several more heart seizures.
Was it the water?
"He did things he shouldn't have and didn't do things he should have," she replied. "I'm not sure I'd attribute his lifespan to anything else."
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Sulphur Springs in Benton County (there are several small communities with this name in the state) was incorporated in 1890 and had a population of 511 in the 2010 census.
The town encompasses one square mile. Like Eureka Springs, it was a major spa center and attracted health-seekers coming on the Kansas City Southern Railway. The train stopped running to that terminal point after fires destroyed the electrical plant, however.
John Brown, of John Brown University fame, began his campus there in 1924 but moved the campus to Siloam Springs two years later because it was unprofitable.
Others schools and businesses were attempted, without much success, until the Shiloh Community, a religious intentional community, relocated from western New York and opened tourist lodgings and a bakery, which they sold in 2001.
"They moved their bread business out of town, which was a huge loss," Newell-Mack said.
It was the springs that were the central feature of the town, though, she added.
She and her family took milk jugs and filled them with water from Lithia Spring, even while visiting relatives before they moved from Kansas City. A sign on the spring said it was the "world's largest natural lithia spring."
The springs flowed strong out of the countryside, she said, until it was determined that local sewer lines were leaking into the water.
"I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, as an adult, and while I was gone, the EPA posted 'do not drink, non-potable' signs. Lithia was the first posted. The local people laughed and said 'We've been drinking this water all our lives!'"
Sewer line repair was begun.
"Lithia Spring quit flowing when they were redoing the sewer system," said Newell-Mack. "They think that when they dynamited, something might have gotten plugged up, but no one is quite sure."
A group of university students tried to repair it, but they couldn't find the source.
Also, in the 1980s, the underground tanks of a filling station across the highway began deteriorating and leaking, and people began smelling gasoline in the spring water.
The tanks were dug up and the station shut down. The springs were considered contaminated.
"I spoke to the man in charge, and he said that natural springs, once deemed contaminated are never 'decontaminated,'" Newell-Mack said.
In a community of 500, there is simply no money to do anything about what has been lost, and she sees that as a tragedy.
"There are wonderful people there, but they're mostly older. Not a lot of young people are there to step up. The few people there could never raise the amount of money they'd need. Is there enough desire and attraction from outside interests? I don't know."
Maybe there could be, if someone would step up. Her mother, who was the town's city clerk/treasurer for years, also started the library. She found the books in New York but had no inexpensive way to get them to Arkansas, so she called Walmart.
"'You have semi's all over the country,' she told them. 'Couldn't you bring back the books in an empty semi?' And they said sure, so they did."
Drive through Sulphur Springs today on old Hwy. 71, and you almost miss the town. It looks boarded up, quiet. But families still picnic in the park and children play in the shallow lake. Small businesses come and go, Newell-Mack said.
Whether the old healing stories of the waters are true or not doesn't matter, she says.
"Now that I look back, whether it worked or not is beside the point. Could it have been the minerals in the springs or the belief in the minerals? That's the theme -- once you lose something to believe in, for me, after that was gone, it was like losing and arm or a leg."
Her book is a memoir of growing up in Sulphur Springs, its healing stories and the connection between what the loss of the springs has meant for the town and for her personally.
Newell-Mack teaches creative nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She won the Moondancer Fellowship to come on retreat for a month at the Writers Colony.
She will read from her book this Thursday, June 21, at the monthly "Poetluck" at the Writers Colony. A potluck dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Also reading from her collection of short stories centered on third-generation Chinese Americans in Baltimore, Md., will be Lisa Tom, from Columbia, Md.
After the two residents read for 10 minutes each, the floor will be opened up for attendees to share their writing for four minutes each.
The Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow is located at 515 Spring St. For more information, call 479-253-7444 or visit the website at www.writerscolony.org.