Walks Through History
Siloam Springs was resort known for water
Most people in Northwest Arkansas probably think of Siloam Springs as the home of John Brown University. That’s true, of course, and has been since it was established as Southwestern Collegiate Institute in 1919. But before that, the small Benton County community — 821 people in 1890; 16,448 people in 2016 — was a bustling tourist destination. Much like Hot Springs and Eureka Springs, Siloam Springs drew travelers who wanted to visit the “medicinal” Sager Creek.
“‘Siloam’ refers to the healing waters of the Pool of Siloam in the New Testament (John 9:6), and health-seekers were once important to the local economy,” Don Warden, director of the Siloam Springs Museum, writes in the Encyclopedia of
Arkansas History & Culture. Even the community’s first name, Hico, was “a Cherokee word meaning ‘clear water’ or ‘sparkling water,’ referring to the springs flowing into Sager Creek.”
When Mark Christ of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program leads one of the agency’s Walks Through History on Saturday, he’ll begin at one of the city’s oldest buildings, one tied to that early tourism: the 1881 Lakeside Hotel, now known as The Crown, at 119 University St.
The hotel is described as “a two-story brick building in an L shape, with a hip roof topped by a low cupola. It is distinguished by the brickwork at the roofline, and by the delicately spindled two-story porch that wraps around two sides of the building.” It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and Warden says it was probably the community’s first brick commercial building and “certainly the oldest still standing.”
“Some of the tourists would certainly have stayed at the Lakeside,” he says, “and there were numerous other hotels in town, too. By 1900, Siloam Springs was a summer health resort with cityowned water and electric services and a telephone company.”
The Siloam Springs Downtown Historic District was so designated in 1994.
“The district is roughly bounded by University Street, Broadway and Sager Creek, with a few buildings on adjacent streets outside this triangular area,” says Christ. “The business district was developed mainly between about 1896, when the railroad arrived, and 1940, and contains a significant number of buildings dating to that period. It also includes Siloam Springs City Park, the location of the springs that gave the city its name. Notable buildings include the First National Bank building, a circa 1890 Romanesque Revival building, and the 1881 Lakeside Hotel, [and] the downtown area is filled with retail and antique shops, restaurants, apartment living, a museum and public art.”
The Walks Through History program, co-sponsored by the Arkansas Humanities Council, travels the state for monthly guided walking tours of historic structures and districts, Christ explains, partnering with local organizations like the Siloam Springs Museum to draw in visitors.
“Heritage tourism is a natural in Siloam Springs, with its origins in tourism,” he says. “But [each community] has its own story to tell.”
The 1881 Lakeside Hotel, now known as The Crown, is probably the community’s first brick commercial building, according to historian Don Warden, and is “certainly the oldest still standing.”