Shortly before 1880, a doctor from the Hico settlement in Northwest Arkansas declared that one of his patients had been cured of chronic pain by drinking from a nearby spring. The spring sat on land which was owned by John Hargrove, a local merchant in Hico. Hargrove saw this as an opportunity and proceeded to lay out the plans for an entirely new town centered around the newly named Siloam Spring, so named after a healing in the ninth chapter of the book of John. He named the town Siloam City and began to gather the testimonials of people who claimed to have been healed by drinking from Siloam Spring. His goal was to found Northwest Arkansas’s next tourist attraction, much like Eureka Springs which was founded the year before. Hargrove enjoyed initial success, as the town grew to a population of over 2,000 people in only a year. It was incorporated as Siloam Springs in 1881. For the sake of clarity, from now on, we will refer to Siloam Spring as “the spring” and to the town itself as Siloam Springs.
Originally, the spring was situated under a simple rock shelf in the side of a hill. But since it was to be a tourist attraction, the town leaders of Siloam Springs placed an ornate stone wall in front of the springs to make it appear more appealing. This week’s featured photo, donated to the Siloam Springs Museum in 1986, shows a large group of men gathered in front of this wall for a town advertisement which was published in 1885. The text included on the back of this advertisement can be found at the end of this article.**
In Siloam’s early years, it was popular to take photos in front of the spring, as the stonework was quite photogenic. The water was directed through three spouts leading into small drinking troughs. Stairs led down to a small patio next to the drinking troughs allowing people to gather and mingle as they drank. It should be noted that today the water is not deemed safe to drink. Here are more examples of Siloam Springs residents and visitors taking photos in front of the spring.
In 1897, the wall was torn down and replaced with a simpler retention wall above the natural rock shelf in the side of the hill. The reason is unclear, though the nearby Sager Creek frequently flooded. It is possible the wall was damaged by one of these floods.
As the decades went on, various pieces of landscaping were added to the space surrounding the spring to add more visual appeal. By the time the photo below was taken in 1911, several retention walls and landscaping implements had been added to the area. The stairs going up the hill behind the spring were also added in 1911.
Today, the 1897 wall still stands, but with stonework added to cover the stone shelf at the bottom. The basin in front of the wall has two troughs for the water produced, but a sign warns against drinking it. The troughs sit in the bottom of a basin that is roughly three feet deep. A small set of stairs descends into the right side of the basin, while a large set descends into the left side.
In the last two decades of the 19th century, the rumored medicinal qualities of the springs attracted tourists to Siloam Springs. Since today we know the springs are not medicinal, Siloam Springs draws tourists in other ways. Today, visitors come for the Kayak Park, the downtown shops and restaurants, the off road cycling trails at City Lake, John Brown University, or any number of other attractions. Come see it for yourself!
SILOAM SPRINGS, ARK.
Siloam Springs, Benton County, is situated in Northwest Arkansas. Siloam and Twin Springs, discovered in 1880, are attractions of our city, on account of their peculiar curative mineral waters. This section abounds in numerous fine streams of water. Plenty of timber, good lime and sand stone for building. Has coal, lead and other mineral deposits. The Ozark region, in which Benton and Washington Counties are situated, is noted for growing fine fruits, such as apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes and berries, of large size and excellent flavor, and have taken premiums at Kansas City, St. Louis and the World’s Fair at New Orleans. Fruit culture, fruit canning and drying, farming and stock raising are the principal industries. Surveys have been made, and on the completion of railroads North, South, East and West, Siloam is destined to be an important commercial center and supply point. A mild and healthy climate, a happy medium between the severe cold of the North and the constant heat of the South, good society, churches and schools.
Written by Chuck McClary
Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History by Maggie Smith
Images of America: Siloam Springs by Don Warden
Siloam Springs Museum archives
Siloam Springs Museum
Siloam Springs Museum archives