The Eureka Springs Library Basement

The Eureka Springs Public Library was dedicated in 1913. It is one of only two remaining Carnegie libraries left in Arkansas. (The other is located in the town of Morrellton.) My interest in the basement level of the library stems from the same sordid curiosity that drew me to the underground. It's an out-of-the-ordinary environment that few people get to see. Further fueling my desire to explore the basement level of the Eureka Springs Public Library was the legend of a secret tunnel leading from Spring Street to the Crescent Hotel.

While we never found this mysterious "Crescent Connection", I did stumble upon a number of curious historical items in my research of the library's construction history. Initial funding from Andrew Carnegie was granted in 1906, but the library would be plagued by unexpected setbacks that would delay the opening for nearly eight years. The first location selected for the library was in a ravine located farther down Spring Street, across from the old Sweet Spring reservation. This initial site required over thirty feet of fill, burning through about $1500 of Carnegie funds before it was determined to be unacceptable. The post office stands there today.

In 1908, Richard Kerens, a distinguished member of the Eureka Improvement Company, donated a section of land just below his newly constructed Kerens Memorial Chapel (now St. Elizabeth's Church) for construction of the new Carnegie Public Library in Eureka Springs. Mr. Kerens had a list of contingencies included in the deed. He required that the construction work begin in six months and be completed within two years (it wasn't). He required the city to allow him to build a family mausoleum in the vicinity of Crescent Park (as far as we know, he never did). The contractor had to connect to the existing culvert along Spring Street, and the building must never cease to be a public library. If any of these considerations weren't met, the title to the land would revert back to the Kerens family.

The library building was designed by St. Louis architect George W. Hellmuth in the Classical-revival style, complete with Doric columns. Prior to construction, there was a long set of wooden stairs leading up the mountain to the Crescent Hotel. At the base of this long staircase was a gazebo with stone steps that inspired the design of the current library steps. Locally quarried stone from the Beaver town area was used in its construction.

As for the basement, lots of visitors mistake the basement door for the library's main entrance. It's easy to do, with the hanging sign above the door and the decorative "bookshelf motif" stained glass windows at either side. But once you're behind that door, it is more-or-less your typical turn-of-the-century unfinished storage space. You walk into a main room under the stairs and landing that has occasionally served as a rustic meeting/training room or book sale space. The library also utilized it as the perfect spot for a Hogwart's School of Magic class during their recent Harry Potter festival. But typically, all you'll find in there are a few trashcans, and perhaps a handful of donated disintegrating paperbacks that have been read a few too many times to be sold.

There are large timber posts supporting the bond beams over the stairs and doorways, similar to what you might expect to see in an old mineshaft. These have been reinforced in some places with concrete blocks. That funky yellow spray-foam insulation has been blown all over the ceiling in an effort to assist with energy efficiency, though there are areas under the steps where you can still see daylight. It smells like you would expect a creepy basement to smell, and during the hottest days of summer it's a very cool retreat.

At the back of this space, the cliff peeks through the wall in places, and there is a wooden door that leads to the former furnace room. This now houses some shelving with maintenance supplies, as well as a caged area for the elevator lift device. Decommissioned airduct holes pierce the walls here and there, but we found little evidence of any further tunnels or openings. (There was certainly no Crescent Connection to be found.) Perhaps someday the library board will decide to weatherproof this space and find additional uses for it. Until then, there's always Halloween!

Grand Central Tunnel Corridor
Eureka Springs Public Library - Basement Exit

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Eureka Springs Library Basement Entrance
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