Cresent Hotel HISTORY.
The "Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks" was built on the crest of
West Mountain between 1884 and 1886 as a resort for those seeking
the healing waters that flow from beneath the mountains in the area.
It was designed by the architect Isaac L. Taylor, a well-known Missouri
architect who was famous for a number of buildings in St. Louis and
who would go on to greater fame for his designs during the 1904
It was constructed by Irish stone masons from Chicago
who did a masterful job - the hotel resembles a stately mansion that
overlooks the city below. The hotel itself combined a number of
architectural styles to create a unique (and sometimes foreboding)
setting. It is equipped with numerous towers, overhanging balconies and
granite walls that are more than 18 inches thick. Numerous renovations
have altered the five-story interior, but the lobby is still fitted with
a massive stone fireplace that dominates the room. At one time, more than
500 people could be seated in the dining room.
Electric lights were included in the original construction, as were bathrooms
and modern plumbing fixtures. The lawn outside was decorated with gazebos,
winding boardwalks and flower gardens and guests were offered tennis courts,
croquet and other outdoor recreations. In the end, the hotel cost $294,000
to build, an extremely extravagant amount for the time.
The regal front doors opened into the lobby where guests were greeted with
every amenity imaginable. Liveried footmen would meet guests at the railroad
depot and transport them by coach to the portico the new hotel. Once there,
the guest could not only enjoy the healing waters of the spa, but also a
stable of 100 sleek-coated horses, tea dances in the afternoon, and elaborate
parties every evening with a full in-house orchestra.
For twenty years, people flocked to the hotel to breathe the fresh mountain
air and immerse themselves in mineral baths. The construction of the
hotel, and development in the area, was so important at that time thanks
to the national attention that had come to Eureka Springs (and other
locations in Arkansas) for the “healing waters” that were bubbling from the
During the late 1800’s, people traveled from all over the country to take
in the waters and to hopefully ease and cure their particular ailments.
In addition, spring water could also be bottled and shipped out, further
enhancing the small town’s reputation. People began to realize that while the
local hot springs were certainly wonderful, they held no curative powers. The
springs soon lost the interest of the wealthier class, who had many other
pursuits in that "gilded age" and business for the town dropped off, and
the Crescent fell on hard times. Just after the turn of the century, the
front doors to the elegant lobby closed.
In 1908, a group of investors purchased the building
and opened it as the Crescent College and Conservatory
for Young Women and served as an exclusive academy for
wealthy ladies. The accommodations were first class, the
faculty was prestigious, and wealthy families from across
the nation sent their daughters to the exclusive Eureka Springs school.
One semester took a tragic turn when a student fell in love
with a local boy from a poor family in town. Her father forbade
her to continue the relationship, and in desperation, the girl
reportedly threw herself from the uppermost balcony of the building.
The incident was hushed, and enrollments continued. During the summer
it still catered to the tourist crowd, but the money it made was
not enough to keep the aging monolith in business.
The costs of running, heating and repairing the place were so overwhelming
that they were not ever offset by the staggering tuition charged to
the students. The school closed in 1924 and then after sitting abandoned
for the next six years it briefly reopened as a junior college from
1930 to 1934.
The Crescent was leased as a summer hotel after the school closed.
In 1937, it got a new owner. Norman Baker turned the place into a
hospital and health resort. These were the darkest days of the hotel.
Baker was an inventor and had made millions of dollars by 1934. Baker
wasn't happy just inventing things because he thought of himself as a
doctor (even though he had no medical training). He claimed to have
discovered a number of "cures" for various ailments, including cancer.
He was sure that organized medicine was conspiring against him. He had
recently been ran out of Iowa for practicing medicine without a license.
He brought his guaranteed "six-week cure for cancer" to the Crescent,
however, and replaced the stately decor of the hotel with bright art-deco
designs featuring his signature color: purple.
He remodeled the Crescent, tragically tearing out the distinctive wooden
handrails and balconies and painting the wonderful woodwork in garish
shades of red, orange, black and yellow. He decorated his own penthouse
in shades of purple. He also added a few other touches to his private rooms,
hanging machine guns on the walls and installing secret escape passages
that would save him should his AMA "enemies" attack.
The "cure" was basically drinking the natural spring water.
No one was really harmed by this, but it wasn't really the advertised
"miracle cure". Some people hold that Baker was a harmless man who hoped
to heal the terminally ill with the local mineral water. Others tell stories
of horrible experiments that he conducted on patients to try and discover
the ultimate cure for cancer. One of his "miracle cures" for brain tumors
was to allegedly peel open the patient’s scalp and then pour a mixture
of spring water and ground watermelon seeds directly onto the brain.
Dozens of the patients died and Baker was said to have hidden the bodies
for weeks until they could be burned in the incinerator in the middle of night.
As his publicity claimed that he could cure cancer in a
matter of weeks, he had to keep the press from finding out that
many of his patients died every month. It has been said that he
would put the extreme and advanced cases into an "asylum", where
they would die in extreme pain. That way, no one would know that
they actually died of cancer. Whatever the truth may be, many people
died in the hotel over the Baker years - the "doctor" was simply
unable to make good on his guarantee of healing.
The American Medical Association alerted the authorities
about his new hospital, and Norman Baker was convicted in 1940 and
sentenced to serve four years in Leavenworth. The Crescent Hotel was
left ownerless. Legends say that when remodeling has been done at
the hotel over the years, dozens of human skeletons have been discovered
secreted within the walls. It has also been said that somewhere
within the place are jars of preserved body parts that were hidden
so as to not scare off prospective buyers. They still have not been
found to this day.
The brooding old hotel stayed closed until 1946 when new
investors took it over and began trying to restore this odd and
historical piece of Ozark history. The hard years still showed and
the hotel was described as being "seedily elegant". Over the next
several years, the hotel passed through several hands as repairs
and more restorations were made, but the hotel was never fully restored
to its original grandeur. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1967
when a fire swept through the fourth floor of the south wing and
much it was destroyed.
However, this all changed in 1997 when the historic inn
was purchased by Marty and Elise Roenigk. In May, 1997, the couple
announced, “In five Years, we pledge to have this ‘Grand Lady of The
Ozarks’ back to where she was 100 years ago.” But, Ozark residents,
having heard these promises too many times before, were skeptical.
In 1997, the Roenigks began to rebuild the spas. That first year,
a 6,500 square foot “New Moon Spa” opened which included Vichy showers,
a hydrotherapy tub, sauna, message and therapy tables, tanning beds,
and exercise equipment. The next major project was to restore the hotel’s
skyline which had been destroyed in the 1967 fire. Costing well over
a million dollars, the 3,500 square foot penthouse, original center
observation tower and the 200-pound, 24-foot-tall Crescent Moon
weathervane were restored.
It had started to regain its lost glory. In the meantime, restorations
of the guest rooms, lounges, electrical, plumbing, and landscaping
were also going on. On September 6, 2002, The Roenigk's bold announcement
became a reality. After 5 million dollars in renovations, the grand
hotel had been fully restored to its original stately glory.
It also remains haunted.