Early Documentation from Sulphur Springs

Image from the National Register of Historic Places

It’s been several months since we put out a call looking for stories from Sulphur Springs, a former resort community located near Harkey Valley in Yell County. There’s not much there now except a few houses and a cemetery, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s the healing springs attracted wealthy men and women from as far away as Chicago and New Orleans. They came in search of cures for tuberculosis and consumption as well as for the popular dances held at the large hotel, making this small community one of the most popular night spots in central Arkansas.

There’s no documentation of how or when the springs were discovered, but old newspapers contain a few details about the community’s early years. Writing in a 1944 article, Ernestine Graveley described the once popular resort as a “a small, rural community with a bleak church building and a country store—a painful site to the old timers who remember its heyday of popularity and prosperity as a health resort.” The store she’s referring to was most likely Bonaparte Rutdledge’s store, which served the area during the 1940s and 1950s.

Gravely’s article traces some of the earliest printed information about the springs including the first known advertisement published in the May 1, 1841 issue of Arkansas Gazette in which proprietor V.T. Rogers wrote, “the resort has opened for the season for entertainment for those in search of health and pleasure.” A similar advertisement ran in 1851 under the new manager, John R. Harris, who claimed the springs were all under one roof and included “both black and white sulphur water, cool and pleasant to the taste.” He went on to proclaim the springs as “one of the best, cheapest and most picturesque watering places in the known world. Ample accommodations will be found for I have made arrangements for all.” The article also mentions a “chalybeate stream,” which was never used by the public and is believed to be located somewhere on Spring Mountain.

Mrs. Gravely’s article focuses heavily on the memories of “Miss Pearle” Hayden, the daughter of Mr. James M. Adney, a man who was born in the area in 1844 and was later the co-owner of the hotel. While her parents were operating the hotel Mrs. Hayden went to school in Sulphur Springs and some of her earliest memories were of the 36-room hotel on “spacious grounds approximately the size of a city block.” She describes a path marked with catalpa trees and a lawn covered in “solid white clover.” She also shared the story of the first man to be buried in the Sulphur Springs cemetery, Joseph H. Waite. Often referred “Wattie,” by locals, he came to the area seeking treatment for consumption, but his condition was too advanced and he died shortly after arriving in 1844, the same year Mr. Adney (Mrs. Hayden’s father) was born. After his death residents wrote home to his family who supposedly sent money for a monument which they inscribed with the words “young, alone, and far from home.”

We’ll have more on Sulphur Springs in upcoming columns. We also discovered that Sulphur Springs Cemetery is being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can read more about that here.

What stories have you heard about the ghost town? We’d love to hear them. Thanks so much for reading and thanks to the Yell County Library for preserving copies of these old articles. You can find them in the vertical files at the Dardanelle branch.