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Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas - Lasting Warmth and Charm
One of the bathhouse buildings in 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.
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.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Actual look at a steaming hot spring
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hot Springs National Park - Good overview...
Map of the Bathhouse Row and some Hot Springs
Photos of the Fordyce Bathhouse - now a National Park Service Visitor Center
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.
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.
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.
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..........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.
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.
Some vintage postcards from Hot Springs, Arkansas...
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:
Hot Springs National Park - Arkansas - The Finest in the World - Byron L. Neimeyer, Manager
Vintage postcard from Hot Springs, Arkansas
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.)
Scenery from the Mountain Tower high above Hot Springs
Have you ever soaked or bathed in a natural hot spring?
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.
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!
Hot Springs Attractions
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Location of Hot Springs National Park
© 2009 Peggy Woods