Tourists once flocked to National Springs in Logan Co.
A calf wonders across a broken pasture, the only sound it’s soft bellowing as it searches for its parent who is grazing nearby. A few moss covered stone jut upward from the otherwise flat pasture, the only remainders of the thriving town that has now vanished from memory.
National Springs was a bustling tourist town near Caulksville in Logan County in the late 1800’s. attracted thousands of visitors up until about 1900. It was estimated to have a population of 2,000 at one time, which would have made it one of the largest towns in West Arkansas. It no longer exists, at least the way it once did.
Five natural springs of healing mineral waters were the centerpiece of a resort city that contained a large hotel, a blacksmith shop, several stores, a school, and even published its own newspaper.
People from across the country congregated and bathed in the mineral infused springs which were thought to cure everything from gout to skin disease. The site, located about 2 miles southwest of the small town of Ratcliff, billed its springs as the “Fountains of Health.” At least three of the springs were covered by pagoda style houses of stone where people could relax and enjoy the healing waters. Much like Hot Springs, people would come to the springs and get containers of the liquid to drink or use for medicinal purposes. In its time, it competed with the better known resorts of Hot Springs and Eureka Springs.
The resort town became a bustling small city containing a Masonic lodge, a newspaper, a water bottling facility, and National Elementary School for students grades one through six. Then just as quickly as it grew, the town faded to oblivion. In the late 1800’s, government inspectors ruled that, although the waters were rich in natural soda, they contained no healing properties. At about the same time, the rail system extended the railroad from Fort Smith into Paris and passed north of the town.
The citizens of Caulksville did not want a noisy train whistling through their town at all hours and declined to have a depot built in city limits. The owner of the Central Railroad simply moved 1 mile west and built a depot and town named after himself, Ratcliff. The businesses located in National Springs began moving closer to the new train depot at Ratcliff and the residents soon followed suit. In some cases, entire buildings were literally picked up and moved. Parts of the old Masonic lodge and some of the other buildings can still be found in Ratcliff today. Within years, the town completely disappeared.
Traveling through our region today, I see many small communities that are simply disappearing. Prairie View, Midway, Brooklynn, Washburn, Natural Dam, Denning all were once small towns. Today, the businesses are gone or boarded up, the younger kids are moving away, and the homes stand deserted. All that now remain are the memories of what once was and the thoughts of what might have been.