History of Lake Lucerne (old)

Eureka Springs cabins and resort

The land now currently known as Lake Lucerne Resort was part of 1700 acres purchased in 1881 by Dr. Charles E. Davis.

Davis designed and built most of the roads and bridges, and dammed several of the springs leading into the valley, the largest one being named Crystal Lake, after his daughter. He established the Eureka Springs Sanitarium, (a heath spa of the 19th century) located at the east end of what is now Lake Lucerne, which was quite popular for several years. Plans were made to connect the sanitarium (Lake Lucerne) by electric trolley to the main downtown of Eureka Springs. Crystal Lake and the Sanitarium never reached the financial success that was anticipated, and finally closed somewhere just past the turn of the century.

Ladies canoeing at the turn of the last century at what is now Lake Lucerne.
Ladies canoeing at the turn of the last century at what is now Lake Lucerne.

In about 1920, Richard Thompson, president of the Crescent Women’s College, the first accredited women’s college in America, and member of the Sanitarium Society purchased a large portion of the original sanitarium. Crystal Lake was renamed Lake Lucerne, after the popular lake resort area in the Swiss Alps. Mr. Thompson was also an Arkansas state senator and founder of Ozarka Water Company.

From 1920 until the late 1960’s, Lake Lucerne Resort flourished sporting the slogan “Coolest Spot in the Ozarks.” In the early days, it was a summer long getaway for the wealthy, and by the 50’s and 60’s became a wonderful spot for locals to escape the seasonal heat. (Think the movie Dirty Dancing, the camps of the Adirondacks, the Berkshire resorts)

1940's horse back riding at the entrance to the resort.
1940’s horse back riding at the entrance to the resort.

In the early days, there was a 9-hole golf course, riding stables and landing strip, still visible on the top of the ridge over looking the lake. The Resort also offered a dining hall and lodge, floating game hall, which became two stories in the 50’s providing a spot for ping pong and pin ball, badminton court, a total of 17 cabins, including the ten on the south side and historically protected today. The lake was a great spot for swimming, offering a water wheel, huge slide, paddle boats, bridge across the water, diving platform and a Victorian era floating cone-shaped water toy.

Waterfront play area, 1960's. Dining hall in the background.
Waterfront play area, 1960’s. Dining hall in the background.

Today, all that remains are the ten cabins on the south side, three original cottages on the north side (the Bayberry, the Gingerwood, and the Kingfisher) and the upper and lower lakes and hand-stacked stone dams. When you are standing on our “beach” the stonewall that surrounds the sand is the original foundation for the lodge/dining hall.

Lake Lucerne is still spring-fed. Up until recently, many locals still filled up jugs from a spring up the valley as their source of drinking water. As you drive into Lake Lucerne valley, you cross two stone bridges now on the state’s historic bridge registry. Both were built by the Sanitarium Company of Eureka Springs in 1892. Photos here.

In the early 1970’s, the larger buildings were in decay and were dismantled. The property went through various owners, until the Chandlers purchased it in 1981. Mariellen and Leo Chandler brought the resort back to life, building what is now the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, repairing many of the cottages, cleaning up the property, and rebuilding the business.

Things did not hold together, and after many ups and downs, the property fell into the hands of the bank, and was sold at auction in about 2001.

In 2003, we became involved are thrilled to breathe life back into this wonderful historic Lake Lucerne Resort – the Coolest Spot in the Ozarks. Our focus is the cottages and cabins and the comfort of our guests. As time and money has allowed, we have added small perennial landscape beds around each cabin, planted more bulbs for dramatic blooms in the spring. Uncovered and reclaimed foot trails around the 40 acres for guests to enjoy. We completed a pergola/covered bridge over the dam, giving it a Craftsmen-flavor that was prevalent in the 1920’s. We also re-furbished the floating gazebo, changing it from white Victorian to a simpler Ozark/Adirondack look, plus added raised decks around the water front area for our guests to enjoy viewing the lake.

During your visit, please feel free to ask questions! Faryl is happy to talk about the history and point out some of the old landmarks.