Underground Tunnels Challenge Hot Springs Engineers from Past to Present

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

Many cities have storm drains in place, Chitwood said, and they are often served by large concrete pipes. The difference in Hot Springs is that there was a creek already in existence.

In 1882, a federal appropriation allowed for enclosing Hot Springs Creek with an arch.

Work began in 1883 and was completed in 1884 at a cost of $136,745. The original arch ran for 3,500 feet.

As a contrast, the tunnels in Eureka Springs stretch 1,250 feet throughout the town’s infrastructure, snaking under businesses and other structures, varying in width and height.

“Most of it is native stone,” said Dwayne Allen, director of public works for the city. “Some areas you can stand up, and some areas you’re going to crawl.”

Many parts of the system are about 100 years old, Allen said, and were built to alleviate the frequent flooding experienced during the town’s booming development in the late 19th century.

Some parts of the pipe were actually built over the first floors of businesses. “There are storefronts down below,” Allen said. “There are business windows and doors from that era, underneath along the sidewalks in that area.”

Engineering Challenges

These tunnels present unique challenges in upkeep as they age.

The need for maintenance of the Hot Springs Tunnel was apparent by 1963, when a study showed it needed major repairs. The next year, McRae Construction Co. of Hot Springs completed an $11,194 project removing debris and clearing boulders from the creek’s bed, as well as repairing the walls and ceiling.

The next major repairs were completed in 2001, a $795,000 improvement job on the tunnel’s arch.

That job was done by Atoka, which has since become the local expert on the tunnel.



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