We’ve set the stage for our stay in Eureka Springs (to start at Part 1 click here). Now it’s time to delve into a little of the town’s African American history plus a few of the town’s wonderful attractions.
An African American in Paradise
Although we would have been perfectly happy to burrow ourselves inside our little abode at the Treehouse Cottages where we began this feature series, Eureka Springs, Arkansas is just too welcoming, stunning and enchanting to not explore.
People might not know it, but there is a bit of African American history here, including that of Thoro Harris, the son of a doctor, born in Washington, D.C. in 1874. Later living in Michigan, Massachusetts and Illinois, Thoro eventually moved to Eureka Springs about 1930. A man of mixed-race heritage, his father is believed to have married a white woman in order to protect his children from racism.
Once in Eureka Springs, Thoro decided to pass as white, a decision that may have been influenced by the fact that the head of the Ku Klux Klan at the time lived in a neighboring county. However, most townsfolk who supposedly knew of his African American heritage were unaffected, as Thoro was very well-liked, active in the community, and made a real name for himself through his talent for music.
A hymn writer and Gospel song publisher, he is credited with writing some of today’s most popular spiritual songs, including “All That Thrills the Soul,”—his most famous, “Glory in the Highest,” “Looking for that Blessed Hope,” “Pentecost in My Soul” and “My Father’s House,” among numerous others.
In addition to his musical interests, Thoro also owned a local boarding house—the Piedmont House Bed & Breakfast—today recognized as Eureka Springs’ oldest continuously operated inn.
The Eureka Springs Historical Museum has a great deal of information about Thoro, including numerous photos, letters, certificates and other documentation about his life and work, many contributed in recent years by family members from around the country.
Thoro lived in Eureka Spring until his death in 1955, and is buried just east of town. But his contributions to this mountain paradise have never been forgotten.
Visitors will find many interesting sites and attractions including the Promised Land Zoo; Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, the world’s largest sanctuary for big cats; Quigley’s Castle, listed on the National Register of Historic Places; Celestial Windz Harmonic, the world’s largest tuned musical wind chime and hanging from a 100-foot tall oak tree; and Blue Spring Heritage Center, an ancient sacred site for Native Americans who used to camp under the bluffs on the grounds;
One of my favorite attractions in town is Thorncrown Chapel. Designed by world-renowned architect E. Fay Jones who drew his inspiration for it from Sainte Chappelle, Paris’ light filled gothic chapel, and ranked as the fourth most significant American architectural structures behind the Sears Tower, Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, it is 48 feet high and features over 6,000 square feet of glass and 425 windows. Surrounded by verdant Ozark mountain forest and constructed with all organic materials except for the steel forming the diamond-shaped pattern in its wooden trusses, including the native flagstone floor, Thorncrown Chapel is emotionally and spiritual inspiring.
Performing arts entities in town encompass the Ozark Mountain Hoedown, Pine Mountain Theater, and The Great Passion Play, named as “America’s #1 Attended Outdoor Drama. Even if you don’t go to the Play, be sure not to miss the Christ of the Ozarks Statue. An amazing, seven-story statue of Christ built entirely by hand, his outstretched arms span 65-feet from fingertip-to-fingertip, and in total it encompasses 24 layers of white mortar on a steel frame weighing over 2 million pounds.
We’ve got on more adventure to come in Eureka Springs!
To start at Part 1 click here.