Visiting Siloam Springs, Arkansas
One of the best small towns around.
During the holidays, while attending my son’s basketball tournament in Northwest Arkansas, I had the unexpected pleasure of exploring the darling downtown district in Siloam Springs. Much to my surprise, I was swept off of my feet by this charming little town while uncovering what the historic district offers and quickly learning why it’s gaining critical acclaim as a noteworthy destination.
Similar to Eureka Springs and Hot Springs, AR, Siloam Springs’ original claim to fame was the healing properties found in the mineral-laced fresh water spouting up from the natural landscape. With 28 natural springs in all, the town gained national attention as a summer resort community in the 1880s, and people flocked to her waters for medicinal purposes. When the railroad arrived in the late 1890s, the business district was developed, but the “boom” eventually subsided as the hype about the healing powers waned. Inevitably, this resulted in a reduced population and a largely abandoned downtown district, lasting many decades.
However, since the 1990s, a labor of love has generated a grand plan to revive the district to enjoy and to showcase its historical significance. Collectively, local citizens have donated millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to re-gentrify the mostly brick-clad downtown buildings. Main Street Siloam Springs, a non-profit organization, is hard at work to “preserve its glory” and turn it “…into an economically vigorous commercial center and a gathering place for hospitality, arts and entertainment…” Now the town is truly progressive and is part of a rapidly expanding region known as the Northwest Arkansas Corridor.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, downtown is pedestrian-friendly and is attractively punctuated by fresh water Sager Creek streaming through town, lovely green space with three pretty parks, walking bridges and, of course, the adorning fountain springs — all of which add up to synergistic charm. Specialty shops for funky finds include Occasions, Savvy and Two Gals Junk, quaint restaurants such as 28 Springs and kid-friendly wood-oven pizza at Fratelli’s, and accommodations like the Inn at The Springs add a unique twist to the hospitable vibe. Perhaps this helps sum up why downtown Siloam Springs has earned the distinctive title of one of “America’s best small towns” by Smithsonian Magazine and has been featured in Southern Living and Parade magazine over the past few years.
The original promise of bringing physical healing to its visitors may be long gone, but Siloam Springs’ current offering may just be mental healing. The friendly and welcoming environment and the slower pace of yesteryear, with its history and cultural endeavors, bring joy and a sense of calm to its people and its guests.
Day trips or overnight jaunts are easy. In 90 minutes, you can cross the Oklahoma-Arkansas border from city life to small-town living—even for just a few hours or a few days. I look forward to spending the night this month at The Inn At the Springs, a quaint, revitalized European-style bed and breakfast establishment situated in the heart of the historic district. I also plan to revisit some of the eateries I missed the first time around and look forward to returning again later this year when the weather warms up to attend the Dogwood Festival and then again to take my boys to the nearby Wilderness Safari and Kayak Park, both highly rated nearby excursions.
Having such a perfect setting for a small town, it’s no wonder that when I stumbled upon this historic neighborhood, I felt as though I was on the set of an old-time television show, depicting a time when everyone said hello with a smile and the community, proudly involved itself to make it the best place possible. I am thrilled to explore more now that I have learned what else there is to do and how close it is to Tulsa. When you go, what will you enjoy first?
For more details about the history of Siloam Springs, the restaurants, shops and lodging options, check out www.siloamsprings.com, www.mainstreetsiloam.org and www.siloamchamber.com. Upon arrival, stop by the Chamber of Commerce office at 108 E. University and pick up brochures and information about the area or call in advance at 479.524.6466 for help with planning your itinerary.