Pinnacle Springs: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t much at Pinnacle Springs except a swimming hole. But at one time, it was a prosperous spa resort located on the North Cadron Creek two miles west of Guy.

Pinnacle Springs was established after Jeff Collier discovered the springs in 1880. While tending cows for his boss, James Martin, on Batesville Mountain, he grew thirsty. As he was riding along the bluff overlooking the Cadron Creek, he saw a spring emerging from a deep cleft so he got off his horse and climbed down to the pool below the spring to get a drink.

Later, he told his boss, a brother of Captain William W. Martin, about the spring with the strange-tasting water. James Martin then relayed this information to his brother and the rest of the family. When tested, the water turned out to be a rare combination of iron, manganese and chlorine.

With Eureka Springs, Hot Springs and other spa cities popping up, the Martins decided to start their own health resort centered on these medicinal waters. For about a decade, Pinnacle Springs would be one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state.

The Pinnacle Springs Land Company was incorporated in 1881 with four Martin brothers and A.M.B. Graham of Little Rock serving as officers. The Martin family deeded over 360 acres to the company to build the town. They named the town Pinnacle Springs after the 160-feet high bluffs that stood just below the springs.

Jesse Martin erected the first store in the town. James Martin built a new home there and moved from Martinville. William and James Martin became co-owners of Pinnacle House, a two-story hotel with 40 rooms. Within a year, nearly 300 people had moved there and the town was bustling with visitors.

By 1886, Pinnacle Springs had two hotels, a skating rink, a 10-pin alley, a pool hall and a billiard room, and twelve bath houses. There was also a school, a church, and a post office. Eight retail businesses including a dry goods store, a doctor’s office, a drug store, a cobbler, a laundry, a sawmill and shingle mill, a cotton gin, a blacksmith and William Firestone’s brickyard were located there.

The second hotel, the Grand Central (aka Park Hotel or Palace Hotel) was built in 1882 east of the city park. It was a two-story with wrap-around porches on both levels. It was operated by an ailing Methodist preacher, W.J. Dodson, who moved to there to try to recover from his various maladies. The two-acre city park, owned by William Martin, was located directly above the springs.

There were three hack lines that brought visitors from Conway to Pinnacle Springs. A ferry, large enough to accommodate a team of horses and a wagon, transported people across the Cadron Creek to the town except during the dry season when travelers could use the ford just upstream from the ferry.

The Martins, however, did not want saloons at Pinnacle Springs so the town was soon voted dry. The saloon keeper responded by moving across the Cadron Creek to the east bank on the ferry site. Patrons merely took the ferry across to partake of his refreshments. This infuriated Capt. Martin so he ordered many of the Pinnacle Springs businesses (which he owned) to move to nearby Cadron Cove.

In late 1887, Pinnacle Springs tried to refashion itself as a college town. Arkansas Christian College, the first college in Faulkner County, was opened in September, 1889. The hotel was turned into a boarding house for the students.

The college graduated only one class in June, 1990. Some blamed its failure on the four-hour hack ride from Conway which made it less accessible but the whole town of Pinnacle Springs was beginning to decline by this time

There were multiple reasons for the decline of Pinnacle Springs. One was the eventual realization that the springs could not cure all ills. A second was a series of negative weather events that prevented farmers there from being able to prosper. The withdrawal of Captain Martin’s businesses also probably contributed to the town’s decline.

Racial discord and a general lawlessness may also have caused residents to move away to nearby Guy, Damascus and Martinville. By the 1900s, Pinnacle Springs was essentially abandoned except for campers. In 1922, the Boy Scouts built a camp on a 10-acre tract they bought from the Martin family. The camp continued to be used for years.

Note: An article written by Richard Wilbanks on Pinnacle Springs in Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986) and an article appearing on the Cadron Creek Outfitters website were referenced for this story.

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