Bathhouse Row

View of Bathhouse Row from Cutters Guide to Hot Springs, early 1900s.
Bathhouse Row in the early 1900s

NPS photo, HOSP archives

The History of Bathhouse Row

The first bathhouses were crude structures of canvas and lumber, little more than tents perched over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of the rock. Later, businessmen built wooden structures, but they frequently burned, collapsed because of shoddy construction, or rotted due to continued exposure to high temperatures and humidity. As the bathhouses continued to grow in popularity, the park's superintendent deemed that more resilient and fireproof structures were needed. Starting in 1896, many of the wooden bathhouses were replaced with the bathhouses that we see today made of masonry and steel.

Hot Springs Creek

Hot Springs Creek, which ran right in front of all the bathhouses, drained its own watershed and collected the runoff of all the springs until the late 1880s. As Hot Springs Reservation grew in popularity and population, it became an eyesore due to pollution. The creek was also dangerous at times of high water and certain areas of the creek became mere collections of stagnant pools at dry times.

 
Color postcard of bathhouse row in 1875. Wooden bathhouses line a winding blue creek with bridges going over it from their entrances. Lots of Horse and carriages in the street. City buildings line the other side. Green trees cover the mountains.
Color Postcard of Bathhouse Row along Hot Springs Creek before the archway was built.
Labeled: HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, ARK. THE WORLD'S SANITARIUM IN 1875

Hot Springs Creek & Early Bathhouses

In 1882-83 the government enclosed Hot Springs creek in an underground arch for flood and sewerage control. The arch was then covered with earth, and the area above it was landscaped to create a pleasing park bounded with Lombardy poplars. This allowed room for landscaping in front of the bathhouses, creating the Bathhouse Row and you see today.The new Victorian bathhouses built between 1880 and 1888 were larger and more luxurious than could have been dreamed of ten years earlier. The haphazardly placed wooden troughs carrying the thermal water down the mountainside were replaced with underground pipes. Roads and paths were improved for the convenience of visitors who wished to enjoy the scenery.

The Secretary of the Interior appointed U.S. Army Captain John R. Stevens to oversee a number of ambitious landscaping and building projects in the 1890s. The Secretary originally planned to retain Frederick Law Olmsted’s personal landscaping services, but after a series of misunderstandings and mutual dissatisfaction, the Olmsted firm withdrew. The Secretary then authorized Stevens to salvage what he could from the Olmsted firm’s designs and complete other enhancements as he saw fit. The resulting improvements included a formal entrance, mountain drives, a lake park on Whittington Avenue, fountains, and a brick bathhouse for the indigent.

By 1901 all of the springs had been walled up and covered to protect them. Between 1912 and 1923 the wooden Victorian bathhouses built in the 1880s were gradually replaced with fire-resistant brick and stucco bathhouses, several of which featured marble walls, billiard rooms, gymnasiums, and stained glass windows. The final metamorphosis of Bathhouse Row was completed when the Lamar Bathhouse opened its doors for business in 1923. The bathhouses, all of which are still standing today, ushered in a new age of spa luxury.

 
Black and white photo from the late 1940s of 4 women walking down the sidewalk of bathhouse row in dresses. They are in front of a bathhouse with 4 pillars, bushes and trees. Trees line both sides of the walk.
Four women enjoy a stroll down bathhouse row in the late 1940s. The Buckstaff Bathhouse is in the foreground and the Ozark Bathhouse is in the background.

NPS Photo/HOSP

 

The Decline of the Bathing Industry


By the 1960s the bathing industry in the park and in the city had declined considerably. On Bathhouse Row, the eight grand bath­houses that had been thriving since their construc­tion in the first three decades of the century suffered from the decline. The elegant Fordyce Bathhouse was the first to close, in 1962, followed by the Maurice, the Ozark, and the Hale in the 1970s. In 1984 the Quapaw (briefly reincarnated as Health Services, Inc.) and the Superior closed. When the Lamar closed in 1985, it left only the Buckstaff still operating on Bathhouse Row.

Bathhouse Row and its environs were placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 13, 1974. The desire to revitalize Bathhouse Row also led citi­zens to campaign for adaptive uses of the vacant buildings. The strongest concern was to save the most elegant bathhouse, the Fordyce, which was consequently adapted for use as the Hot Springs National Park visitor center and museum. At this point in time most of the bathhouses have been renovated and adapted for modern use.

Useful Facts about the Historic Buildings on Bathhouse Row

 

Name

Operator

Construction Cost

Architect

Opened

Remodeled

Closed

Possessorary
Interest
Cost/Date

Lamar

Lamar Bathhouse Co.
Sidney M. Nutt Pres.
130,000 Roberts & Schwebke 1923 1931 1985 900
(1986)

Buckstaff

Buckstaff Bathhouse Co., organized by:
Gilbert E. Hogaboom
Milo R. Buckstaff
Sinclair Mainland
125,000 Frank W. Gibb & Co. Christopher & Simpson 1912 1921
1925, Mann & Stern
1953
-- --

Ozark

Ozark Bathhouse Co., organized by:
W. S. Sorrells
Ernest F. Latta
93,000 Mann & Stern, Architects 1922 1927, J. G. Horn
1941, Irven D. McDaniel
1977 648
(1981)

Quapaw

Quapaw Bathhouse Co.:*
George Callahan, Pres.
214,837 Mann & Stern, Architects 1922 1929, 1968 1968
1984**
22,193
(1984)

Fordyce

Samuel W. Fordyce 220,000 Mann & Stern, Architects 1915 1938, John R. Fordyce 1962 152,000
(1985)

Maurice

Maurice Bathhouse Co.:
William G. Maurice, Pres.
130,000 George R. Gleim, Jr. 1912 1915-16, Mann & Stern 1974 5,688
(1976)

Hale

Logan H. Roots
George H. Eastman
Logan H. Roots
George H. Eastman
1892 1914, George R. Mann
1938, Thompson,
1978 19,570
(1982)

Superior

Superior Bathhouse Co.:
E. L. Howlett, Pres.
68,000 Harry C. Schwebke 1916 1928 1983 5,872
(1983)

Admin Building

National Park Service 176,182 George Mann, Architect 1935 1992 -- --

* Organized by the Horse Shoe-Magnesia Bathhouse Corp. and originally called Platt Bathhouse.; renamed in 1922
**Reopened as Health Services, Inc., in 1969, then closed for good in 1984
 
Two stone pillars with bronze eagles perched atop them stand as the park entrance as the ornate yellow-bricked Fordyce Bathhouse frames them from behind with a cloudy sky above. The sidewalk lined wit trees on the right stretch into the distance.
The Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and Bathhouse Row today.

NPS Photo/Mitch Smith

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Last updated: October 8, 2021

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Mailing Address:

101 Reserve Street
Hot Springs , AR 71901

Phone:

501 620-6715

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