Can you drink the water? You must drink the water! The ever flowing, abundant, pure water from the hot springs of Arkansas has been beckoning tourists and travelers seeking improved health for hundreds of years. In those early times, people would sip water from whatever seep they saw. Today, the Hot Springs National Park system provides fountains where guests may drink the water or even fill up jugs for free to take with them. On average, 700,000 gallons of water are collected every day – at an average temperature of 143 degrees.
Another early use of the esteemed water was for bathing – specifically medicinal bathing. People came from great distances for the 'curative powers' of the waters. While there is no scientific proof of curative treatment, there are still many people who believe the hot springs are good for health.
People built rudimentary shacks along the seeps, and eventually came buildings and organization. Hot Springs became a tourist town, with more and more elaborate bathhouses built along the river. Twice the city burned to the ground, but each time it came back. After after the turn of the century, other guests started coming to – giving Hot Springs a particular history as vacation spot for both baseball stars and for gangsters.
Historians say that early European explorers were the first to see the springs. Local Indians, hunters and traders settling the area then found them. The area was included in the Louisiana Territory and became part of the United States.
More and more people heard of the hot waters and came to seek relief from their aches and pains. By the late 1800s, the government set aside a large area of land in order to protect the springs, an unprecedented move for the country. A supervisor sent to the area found bathers concentrating on three dugout pools. Bathhouses, initially rough wooden structures carrying the water in troughs, became more and more polished and elaborate.
Gradually the city of Hot Springs came to be called "The National Spa," and Congress declared the reservation the 18th National Park.
Fabulous and ornate bathhouses were built to serve the hundreds of thousands of visitors. These bathhouses were concentrated on a street that came to be called Bathhouse Row. Each one tried to outdo the other by offering marble and polished brass designs, art and stained glass. Hotels and the railroads came to Hot Springs and by 1897, all but four of the springs were arched over and their water was pumped to reservoirs.
Improvements in medical technology after WW II resulted in a drop in visitors. One by one, the bathhouses began to close down as business began to decline.
By the mid 1980s, local citizens and the National Park Service began working together to preserve the ornate bathhouses. The Park Service has issued calls for proposals to lease the historic properties for a variety of uses. Today, the Quapaw Bath House has been restored and opened for treatments 'like they used to be.” The Buckstaff Bathhouse is also open for treatments. The Fordyce Bathhouse, which operated from 1915-1962, reopened its doors as park visitor center after undergoing extensive restoration in 1989. Definitely stop in and watch the short and free movie telling about the area's history. More than 3 million visitors come to the area each year.
A completed renovation of the Ozark Bathhouse enabled the Museum of Contemporary Art to relocate there in February of 2009; MOCA features artists from all over the world with major exhibits. The newest bathhouse renovation project brings The Muses Creative Artistry Project to the Hale Bathhouse. The Muses is a non profit arts organization that brings classical art and musical performance to the community. Lunch is served most days.
Fifty years ago or so, Hot Springs was also a popular destination for the rich and famous, drawing the likes of Babe Ruth, Andrew Carnegie and F.W. Woolworth. Gangster Al Capone and members of his mob occupied the entire fourth floor of the popular Arlington Hotel when visiting the Spa City. A brass plaque marks Capone’s favorite suite – Room 442. From there he could easily watch the activity on the street below. Don't miss a visit to the fascinating Gangster Museum of America. The collection of photos and memorabilia is captivating.
Illegal casino gambling thrived in Hot Springs during the 40s, 50s and 60s, until the government closed the casinos in 1967. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hot Springs became the birthplace of spring training for baseball. The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Sox all had spring training in Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is a perfect destination for families. Within driving distance of Houston, there is an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy: camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, water-skiing, boating all take place on the many lakes and in the forests. Rent an entire houseboat at BigBoats.net and enjoy easy nights in your own floating hotel on Lake Ouachita. A growing arts community is another major amenity; fine art galleries and antique shops are within easy walking distance of downtown. The city is also home to nationally recognized festivals including the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the Hot Springs Music Festival.
We enjoyed a morning admiring the thoroughbred track of Oaklawn Park, one of the last privately owned race tracks in the country and where racing each spring and simulcast racing throughout the year can be found. Nature is at her best at Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre botanical garden surrounded by Lake Hamilton. At some point during your visit, ride to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. It is a beautiful view accompanied by lots of great historical information.
Dining: You must visit McClards, home to some of the most famous barbecue in the state. Luna Bella, tucked away in a nondescript strip center, is a feast for the Italian-loving palate. Rolando's is a great spicy blend of Mexican and Ecuadoran food served in an eclectic, fun atmosphere.
For complete information, visit www.hotsprings.org or call the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-543-2284.