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Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas - Lasting Warmth and Charm

Updated on October 10, 2017
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Mission Revival style Bath building — Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Mission Revival style Bath building — Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs, Arkansas. | Source

Hot Springs

Growing up as a child, I had heard about trips that my grandparents had made to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas and it always sounded intriguing to me. Springs bubbling up out of the ground or water running down hillsides that emitted steam seemed somehow special and certainly out of the ordinary. I wished to see in person what had caused these warm and charming stories to be told.

Series of natural Hot Springs near Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Series of natural Hot Springs near Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas. | Source

Bathhouses where people could bathe in the naturally occurring hot water and after bathing get massages seemed exotic to me as a youngster.

When my mother and I planned a trip to Arkansas and Missouri in September of 1995, I made sure that our route would go through Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Taken from a newspaper clipping regarding Hot Springs, Arkansas
Taken from a newspaper clipping regarding Hot Springs, Arkansas | Source

There were two reasons. One was hearing about it from trips that my grandparents had taken.

And the number two reason is that I have always loved seeing our National Parks and had hoped to one day see them all.

Hot Springs, looking north. Bathhouse Row is on right where Central Avenue widens. Published circa 1924.
Hot Springs, looking north. Bathhouse Row is on right where Central Avenue widens. Published circa 1924. | Source

Urban National Park

Hot Springs, Arkansas is the only urban National Park in existence in the United States of America.

Most people think of vast expanses of natural beauty when thinking of National Parks. The setting of this National Park is quite unique.

Established in 1832 as Hot Springs Reservation, this set aside area that eventually became a National Park was originated with the purpose of protecting the many hot springs that flowed from the base of Hot Springs Mountain.

Exteriors of buildings in Hot Springs
Exteriors of buildings in Hot Springs | Source

Native people had discovered this site thousands of years ago.

Artifacts from Indians, perhaps 10,000 years old have been found in this area. They undoubtedly came to bathe and drink the clear waters as well as hunt and live in this beautiful area.

Supposedly scientists have determined that the waters coming from these springs are approximately 4,000 years old or more. 850,000 thousand gallons of mineral rich water are produced daily.

NASA ( National Aeronautics and Space Administration) folks discovered that the most important thing about this special water is that it is naturally sterile!

Because of this, rocks found on the moon have been stored in this pure water.

To protect much of this water from contamination most of the springs have been capped off, but a few are allowed to run freely so that people can see what this area would have been like when the native people first discovered it.

By protecting the springs people can bathe and drink these pristine waters without having to have the water treated with artificial chemicals to purify it.

There are public fountains with the hot springs bubbling up where people are welcome to drink or even fill containers to take with them.

The water averages 143 degrees Fahrenheit or 61 degrees Celsius and therefore emits steam wherever it flows and hits the cooler air temperatures.

Actual look at a steaming hot spring

People for many years thought that the chemical composition of the water would heal many ailments, and because of this an industry sprung up around these hot spring waters.

For people with arthritis and similar conditions the warm waters would have been soothing and the massages relaxing. So whether or not diseases or conditions were actually healed, people kept coming to Hot Springs as the word spread about these warm and mineral laden waters especially as our population became more mobile with the growth of the automobile industry.

Map of the Bathhouse Row and some Hot Springs

Taken from a portion of a brochure...Map of the Bathhouse Row and some Hot Springs
Taken from a portion of a brochure...Map of the Bathhouse Row and some Hot Springs | Source

Bathhouse Row

A group of nine buildings built and devoted to this water based industry became known as Bathhouse Row.

There are hiking trails and scenic drives in this Hot Springs National Park.

WEST FRONT - Bathhouse Row, Hale Bathhouse, Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR
WEST FRONT - Bathhouse Row, Hale Bathhouse, Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR | Source

The Grand Promenade

The Grand Promenade right in the middle of town is a 1/2 mile hike and leads one to a point where one can look down upon the central business district. People with disabilities can easily access this area.

Of course my mother and I drank some of the mineral rich Hot Springs water while there and it is pleasant tasting.

This was part of the rehabilitation regimen for visitors to Hot Springs.     Folks would soak and bathe in the hot springs at a bathhouse and then spend the rest of their day walking in nature along the Grand Promenade Hot Springs National Park
This was part of the rehabilitation regimen for visitors to Hot Springs. Folks would soak and bathe in the hot springs at a bathhouse and then spend the rest of their day walking in nature along the Grand Promenade Hot Springs National Park | Source

The Fordyce

The Fordyce was one of the bathhouses in Bathhouse Row. It was centrally located in the string of eight other bathhouses and had its steady clientele as well as tourists passing through its doors in the height of activity in days past.

Fordyce Bathhouse
Fordyce Bathhouse | Source

Originally the bathhouses were simply tents over the hot springs or similar elementary structures. As time passed wooden structures were built but they often burned to the ground.

Eventually what became Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Arkansas was the protected creek that was put into a channel and roofed over and housed under a road.

The government took an early interest in protecting this unique area and portions of Hot Springs, Arkansas became our nations' 18th National Park.

Health seekers all across the nation sought the healing waters that naturally occurred in Hot Springs.

The bathhouses became lavish monuments embellished with marble and tiled floors and walls, with statues, stained glass, fountains and other artful surroundings.

Stained glass above The Fountain of Youth statue in the Fordyce Bathhouse
Stained glass above The Fountain of Youth statue in the Fordyce Bathhouse | Source

Each bathhouse competed with the other ones to lure customers into preferring their establishments for return treatments and entertainment.

Music was played.

Gambling was offered.

Dining rooms offered the best in food and drink.

Every detail was meticulously addressed to make clientele want to return to that particular bathhouse.

The Fordyce was no exception. In fact it exemplified the luxury offered to people seeking the healthful waters and medical therapies offered at the time in Hot Springs.

Photos of the Fordyce Bathhouse - now a National Park Service Visitor Center

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Exterior window on the Fordyce BathhouseInterior - Ground floorMy mother relaxing in a lobby chairCloseup of wall decor on ground floor.The Fountain of Youth Statue in the central men's bath hallCloseup of The Fountain of Youth statue
Exterior window on the Fordyce Bathhouse
Exterior window on the Fordyce Bathhouse | Source
Interior - Ground floor
Interior - Ground floor | Source
My mother relaxing in a lobby chair
My mother relaxing in a lobby chair | Source
Closeup of wall decor on ground floor.
Closeup of wall decor on ground floor. | Source
The Fountain of Youth Statue in the central men's bath hall
The Fountain of Youth Statue in the central men's bath hall | Source
Closeup of The Fountain of Youth statue
Closeup of The Fountain of Youth statue | Source

The Fordyce bathhouse opened in 1915 and got its name from Colonel Samuel W. Fordyce who claimed that his life had been saved by the healthful waters emanating from the hot springs.

Suspending operations in 1962, it became a Visitor Center for the National Park Service and today is open to the public to view the rooms and exhibits from the past.

My mother and I explored the building and marveled at the rich use of building materials already mentioned which included marble, tile, stained glass, etc.

The men's areas were separated from the women's areas of the bathhouse.

When my grandparents traveled to this area many years earlier while on vacation, we wondered if it was the Fordyce that they had utilized for their Hot Springs bathing and pampering experience or another bathhouse on Bathhouse Row?

Whichever bathhouse had been used by my grandparents, we now had a clearer understanding of how they would have been treated.

Many of the original bathhouses are now being utilized for different purposes, however one can still take in the sybaritic spa experience and hot waters in the ones that are still operating as in days past.

Hot Springs National Park - Good overview...

Every single National Park in the United States is unique and has been set aside as public lands so that people from everywhere can enjoy the aspects of what makes them special. Hot Springs National Park fits that description.

It is wonderful that the Fordyce bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park is now open to the public. The lavishly decorated rooms that each served a specific purpose can now be enjoyed by everyone.

My mother and I both drank from these medicinal and curative Hot Springs waters. What has it done for us? Did we find the "fountain of youth?"

Both of us have graying hair and we both have some aches and pains from arthritis. Perhaps we needed to soak in the waters? Maybe we need to drink more of the Hot Springs water? Should we consider taking up residence there? What a quandary! :)

Our one day pass through this interesting National Park may not have served us as being curative of anything but we were certainly left with lasting impressions of the warmth and charm of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Vintage postcard picked up by my grandparents years ago while visiting the Fordyce Baths.
Vintage postcard picked up by my grandparents years ago while visiting the Fordyce Baths. | Source

Some Vintage Postcards

Both of the postcards shown above were picked up by my grandparents when visiting Hot Springs National Park years ago. Both of them were published by Connelly Press, Hot Springs, Arkansas. And both state...Genuine Natural Color Made By DEXTER PRESS, Inc., West Nyack, N.Y.

The writing on the back of the first postcard states the following:

FORDYCE BATHS

Hot Springs National Park - Arkansas - The Finest in the World - Byron L. Neimeyer, Manager

Vintage postcard from Hot Springs, Arkansas - Motel my grandparents would have stayed in years ago while visiting Hot Springs.
Vintage postcard from Hot Springs, Arkansas - Motel my grandparents would have stayed in years ago while visiting Hot Springs. | Source

On the second postcard it reads:

After the Triple A insignia... PARKWAY COURT

Mr. and Mrs. H. Y. Westbrook, Owners - Managers

All new construction, furnishings. Tile baths. Kitchenettes if desired. Thermostatically controlled heat and Air-conditioning. Maid service and free television in rooms. Sleep in comfort and cleanliness. Plenty of parking space. Restaurants nearby. On Arkansas Hwy. 7 and U.S. Hwy. 70 at 815 Park Avenue, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. Phone NAtional 3-0297.

I think that it is fun to insert old vintage postcards of what my grandparents would have seen and where they would have stayed and in some cases dined in these hubs. Just knowing that we were retracing some of their steps made it enjoyable for us as well.

Overlooking the Ouachita Mountains from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Overlooking the Ouachita Mountains from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas. | Source

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

My mother and I had walked on the Grand Promenade in town and had wandered through Arlington Park, also in the middle of town. We had viewed and drunk from hot springs. Before leaving Hot Springs, Arkansas, we made one additional stop in the park.

High above the City of Hot Springs on a hillside sits a 216 foot Mountain Tower.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Hot Springs Mountain Tower | Source

One can see a beautiful panoramic scene that takes in about 140 miles from the top of the tower. Looking down on Hot Springs, one also sees the Ouachita Mountains and surrounding Diamond Lakes amidst much greenery.

Originally built in 1877 by Enoch Woolman, it was a 75 foot structure. After being struck by lightening and being burned, a second tower was built and made of steel. Standing 165 feet tall, and named the Rix Tower, it stood for over 60 years until being replaced by the Mountain Tower standing in this spot today.

An elevator takes one to the observation windows at the top of the Mountain Tower for a wonderful overview of the entire Hot Springs National Park and surrounding area. It is definitely worth a stop and look.

Hot Springs National Park is an area not only filled with 47 hot springs, but its warmth and charm will stay with you if you are lucky enough to pay this Arkansas site a visit. Who knows.....you may even find your own "fountain of youth" there!

Have you ever soaked or bathed in a natural hot spring?

See results

Hot Springs Attractions

Location of Hot Springs National Park

A markerHot Springs National Park -
Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, AR 71901, USA
get directions

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 15 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Glenis Rix,

      Thanks for the rating and I am happy to know that you found this article about Hot Springs National Park interesting. My mother and I really enjoyed getting to visit there while on vacation one year.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      GlenR 15 months ago from UK

      Lovely pictures and interesting history. I've rated **** :)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Au fait,

      So glad you liked learning about this most interesting national park which is so different from most of them in our country which are usually set in open wilder settings. Thanks for the shares. You are correct in that it is not that far distant from north Texas.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      This is a very informative article. I didn't know the hot springs were sterile or that anything other than undeveloped land was part of a national park. Really enjoyed your photos as always, and learning about this park that really isn't that far away from North Texas.

      Gave you 5 more stars, voted up, BAUI, posted on FB, pinned to my 'Travel' board, and shared.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello weski342,

      Here is a link that will explain much of why many of the springs are capped in Hot Springs National Park: http://www.nature.nps.gov/water/Scoping_Reports/ho...

      Lots of reading...but basically much of the water is redirected for many reasons including such things as flood control, contamination, etc. I think that you will find the link interesting.

      So glad that you enjoyed reading this and hope you enjoy your retirement there someday. Arkansas is such a beautiful state!

    • profile image

      weski342 5 years ago

      My wife & I visit Hot Springs several times each year. Especially during racing season. It's one of our favorite places & we plan to retire there. One thing I've wondered for years & I don't understand the NPS reasoning is the capping of most of the hot springs. The only answer I've received was to prevent conntamination of the springs. Do you know why they're capped? I think it would be so exciting to see them flow freely again like they did for centuries. Now there just big green squares of concrete scattered on the side of the mountain with chains on top. Not very natural. I'm in my mid 40's. I was too young to experience Hot Springs in it's hey day. It's great to have sites like this to try to experience some of Hot Springs History. You have an awsome site. Thanks for all your work

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi thelyricwriter,

      So glad that you enjoyed this Hot Springs hub. Thanks for the compliments and votes. Appreciate it! :))

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 6 years ago from West Virginia

      awesome, beautiful, and awesome, plus up. This is one of the best Ive seen Peggy. Great job. Love the map. I know you work your tail off on these and I commend your hard work to make a quality hub. Well done.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Lorrie,

      We did spend a bit of time but not long traveling through Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. It would definitely be nice to return and take in some of those spa treatments and see more of the area. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Lorrie 7 years ago

      I live in Hot Springs Village, about 15 miles north of Hot Springs, and having lived in Georgia all my life and never desiring to leave, I can say with confidence, I love it here! The hot springs draw all kinds of people in, from the cosmopolitan to the unsavory (Al Capone was a regular at the Arlington Hotel, we even had his car here last year). We have wonderful art galleries, & everything else you can imagine. Come spend some time with us!!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi frogyfish,

      Glad that this visit to Hot Springs National Park brought back some good memories for you even if it has changed from the time of your visit to now. Sounds like your childhood swim in the hot springs and camping would have been so much fun! No wonder you remember it fondly. Thanks for the visit and comment.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Your delightful hub brought back memories of a childhood swim in the hot springs and a teen-age overnight camping there. I think it is past time for me to return...your pictures show that it is a 'changed place' now!

      Thank you very much for sharing your info and pix!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello MagicStarER,

      Thanks for reading this hub about Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. At least you will have a "heads up" as to what you will find there when you get to visit in person. Hopefully you will be able to spend a bit more time there and enjoy the spa features, etc. Wish I was there right now getting a massage!!!

    • MagicStarER profile image

      MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky

      This is really interesting, Peggy! You did a great job, and now I am wanting to go there!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi kiwi91, Glad you liked the photos. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    • kiwi91 profile image

      kiwi91 8 years ago from USA

      I've always found this place interesting, but I haven't been there yet. You've done it some justice, the photos look great.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi KCC Big Country, We satisfied our hearing about it as a kid...now it is your turn! If you go, let me know your impressions. OK?

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ethel, Anything that is labeled a National Park is always interesting...at least from the ones I have thus far seen. This one is no exception. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete, At one time all those bathhouses would have been filled with clients seeking cures or at the least, being pampered. Supposedly Jack Dempsey worked out in the Fordyce gymnasium. Probably other notable folks as well would have been seen there. Now you know! LOL

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      KCC Big Country 8 years ago from Central Texas

      I always heard about Hot Springs as a kid as well. I need to venture on up there. Sounds like fun!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Looks an interesting place and piece of history

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      I think 143 degrees would be rather toasty. I never knew there was a place where you would see bathhouses lines in a row.