First Obenshain reunion gives family chance to relive Eureka's founding

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
These are some of the 75 Obenshain descendants who attended a big family reunion May 16 at Blue Spring Heritage Center, hosted by the John Fuller Cross family, whose grandmother was May Obenshain. John is at the far right, and one of his four children, daughter Bobbie Foster, is at the far left. Foster, who owns Mud Street Café, catered the event. Photo submitted

EUREKA SPRINGS -- "I don't know if it will continue," said John Fuller Cross, "but it was a one-of-a-kind thing. It had never happened before, so it was a big deal."

He was referring to a large family reunion of the Obenshains -- his grandmother May's family name -- held May 16 at the Blue Spring Heritage Center.

Cross said about 75 people attended the reunion.

"The Obenshain family is scattered all over America, with a large contingent of Obenshains in the Clifty community. Others were from Vermont, Chicago, Virginia, Little Rock, Springdale and many other points around the United States," he said.

The name has an interesting history itself. It has different spellings, including "Obenchain" and "Abendschone," most likely of German origin.

The local Abendschone Chapter of the National Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was named after the family name of Cross' mother, Ruth Fuller Cross.

The Obenshains were one of the first families in Eureka Springs, Cross said.

"Jacob Obenshain moved over here from Fayetteville, Ark., to work for the railroad as a master mechanic, when it first came in to Eureka Springs in 1883. Jacob Obenshain was one of the main builders of Old Main at the University of Arkansas, having quarried the stone, put the slate on the roof, and other facets of the building itself. He also built the house at 303 Spring Street (the Obenshain House) in Eureka Springs in approximately 1892."

A few years ago, Cross found 20 trunks locked away in the Obenshain house that had been secreted by his grandmother's sister, Ora Obenshain, the second oldest of the nine Obenshain children. She was one of the first graduates of the University of Arkansas, and her name appears on the Senior Walk a few steps from the front door of Old Main. She had been a schoolteacher in Eureka Springs and in MacAlester, Okla., while it was still Indian territory.

The trunks contained diaries, linens, hair and other priceless mementoes, many of them relating to life in Eureka Springs at the time.

(Ed. note: Carroll County News ran a story on this find in its May 1, 2007 edition.)

"All the diaries are from the early 1890s," Cross said. "Jacob had a farm in Clifty, and that's where he went to get away."

That would explain the large number of Clifty Obenshains today, he noted. Around 20 Clifty Obenshains attended the reunion.

Cross said he is still reading the old diaries, which contain fascinating accounts of Jacob's work around the town, accounts of the weather and other events of daily life in Eureka Springs.

"At that time the railroad owned the Crescent Hotel, and Mr. Obenshain had many duties at the Crescent, as well as the railroad itself, on a daily basis," Cross said. "He and his wife, Mary, had nine children, including a set of twins, May and Maud, of which May Obenshain was my grandmother, who married Claude Albert Fuller on December 25, 1899."

Reunion attendees were given a tour of the Fuller house and the historic downtown branch of Cornerstone Bank (formerly the Bank of Eureka Springs), and many had a chance to look at the contents of the trunks, Cross said. Unfortunately, they could not tour the Obenshain house, as it is currently being rented.

"The Obenshain house at 303 Spring St., and the Fuller House, built in 1904, at 300 Spring St., are the only two homes in Eureka Springs that were built by the same family that has continuously owned them up until today," Cross said.

Cross said several Obenshain descendants came from other states, including those from the East and Northeast, from Vermont, New York and Chicago.

"Most of the attendees hadn't been here," he said. "It exposed them to Eureka Springs and Blue Spring."

Although there were no major surprises to emerge from the reunion, Cross said, "The real excitement was meeting cousins you didn't know existed or hadn't met."

One interesting fact Cross found out in researching his family was that he might never have been an Obenshain descendant if Jacob Obenshain had had his way.

"When Granddad (Claude Fuller) was fascinated by one of the Obenshain twins (May) and wanted to court her, that wasn't going to happen because he was from a poor family," Cross said. "Jacob Obenshain was making a good living, and Granddad was one or two classes below him. He wasn't going to allow his daughter to go around with a 'ruffian.'

"So I always asked, 'Well, if he was so against it, how did they ever get married?'"

The mystery was solved, Cross reported, when he was out in the Eureka Springs cemetery, where both Jacob and Mary are buried, and he saw their headstones.

"I looked at Jacob's headstone. He died June 16, 1899, and May and Claude Fuller were married Dec. 25, 1899. I guess his wife wasn't as against my grandfather as her husband had been!"

The reunion was a wonderful event, Cross said. It was catered by his daughter, Bobbie Foster, who owns Mud Street Café. Bobbie has recently been appointed to the City Advertising and Promotion Commission and serves on the board of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Cross was pleased to show off Eureka Springs to his distant Obenshain relatives.

"Coming to a town like Eureka Springs was an incentive for them, because many of them had never been here or been to Blue Spring," he said.

His mother, Ruth Fuller Cross, died early this year, at 99 1/2 years old. He said the family will have a private gathering for her Aug. 7 to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

The local Abendschone DAR chapter will also hold a memorial at the cemetery for her on Aug. 7.

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