Ozarka Water Company

The city of Eureka Springs (Carroll County) was founded in 1879 partly in response to stories of the curative powers of the water at Basin Spring. John S. Tibbs was the earliest shipper of spring water from Eureka Springs. He was known as “Eureka Basin Water Shipper,” and his business was across from Basin Spring. He is presumed to have sold his business to William Duncan, and it was Duncan who named it the Eureka Springs Water Company and then marketed it as “Ozarka” in 1905. Richard Ryan Thompson bought it in 1924 from a receiver and ran it until 1966, when he sold it to Arrowhead Puritas Water, Inc. In the twenty-first century, the Ozarka brand resides in Texas and is owned by Nestlé.

The Eureka Springs Water Company really took off under the direction of entrepreneur William Duncan, who arrived in Eureka Springs in the late 1880s and almost immediately began to play a prominent role in the civic and business life of the city. He owned or had a controlling interest as president of the 1887 Citizens Bank at 40 Spring Street. The Syndicate Company was his major business endeavor, which was the successor to former Arkansas governor Powell Clayton’s Eureka Improvement Company, organized in 1882, that occupied valuable city property worth several hundred thousand dollars, most of it located in the business district of Spring Street. Duncan was also the major shareholder in building the Basin Park Hotel in 1905. On July 1, 1907, however, Citizens Bank did not open for business, and soon Giles E. Miller’s Daily Times Echo hit the streets with an extra edition carrying a banner headline, “Citizens Bank Asks for Receiver.” One by one, all of Duncan’s enterprises were appointed receivers.

The Eureka Springs Water Company shipped water to a wide area of the Southwest and was one of the most successful endeavors in Eureka Springs. When the company was purchased by William Duncan, he held a contract with the famous Harvey System, founded by the Fred Harvey Co., which had a chain of restaurants alongside railroads and in dining cars throughout the western United States. The Harvey System furnished Eureka Springs water—under the 1905 patented name Ozarka—to all of its eating establishments throughout the Midwest, as well as all Harvey-controlled dining cars on the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway.

The Ozarka water initially came from two of Eureka’s many springs, Bays and Magnetic. Later, the company shifted the site of its production to a forty-acre tract in Mill Hollow that had two springs, and another thirty-acre tract was added, in Stock Pen Hollow. The water was shipped from the Eureka Springs Train Depot in glass-lined railroad cars; after the local railroad closed, it was trucked in glass-lined trailers to Seligman, Missouri, and placed on the train there.

Another major figure in the history of the Ozarka Water Company was Richard Ryan Thompson, who, in 1908, began working as a language teacher and solicitor at the Crescent College for Women. In the fall of 1910, Thompson took over the presidency of the college and remained in that role until his last lease of five years expired in 1923, when he closed the college. Thompson later purchased what would become Lake Lucerne Resort, and with the assistance of his attorney friend Claude Fuller, he found an opportunity to buy the Ozarka Water Company from the receiver in 1924. Over the years, he became a highly successful businessman, establishing Ozarka dealerships all over the Southwest and as far north as Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also became an Arkansas state senator and Arkansas highway commissioner.

As Thompson grew older, and his eyesight began to fail, he sold the company in 1966 to Arrowhead-Puritas Waters, Inc., under the management of Vaughn Igo, who operated the company in Eureka Springs. Ozarka Water was still shipped out of Eureka Springs until 1971, when Thompson died. Arrowhead-Puritas then moved the company to Los Angeles, California, as the trade name Ozarka was all it was after.

On July 26, 1973, John Fuller Cross purchased all the property Arrowhead-Puritas left behind in Eureka Springs—including the three springs, three additional pieces of real estate (the railroad depot, the round house, and the animal shelter), water equipment, and Ozarka water glasses.

The brand name Ozarka is still being used in the twenty-first century by Nestlé. The water comes from springs in Texas and is distributed throughout the south-central United States. In February 2021, journalist Jacqueline Froelich reported the rediscovery of one of the long-lost Ozarka springs northeast of Eureka Springs.

For additional information:
Froelich, Jacqueline. “Rediscovering the Origins of Ozarka Water in Eureka Springs.” Ozarks at Large, February 22, 2021. KUAF. https://www.kuaf.com/post/rediscovering-origins-ozarka-water-eureka-springs (accessed February 22, 2021).

Ozarka. https://www.ozarkawater.com/ (accessed February 12, 2021).

Westphal, June, and Osterhage, Catherine. A Fame Not Easily Forgotten. Conway: River Road Press, 1970.

John Fuller Cross
Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Last Updated: 02/23/2021