Park Brochure continued

black and white photo from stereograph; looking south on the hot springs valley with mountain on left and small wooden buildings along either side of a dirt road; some foundations visible of buildings burned during the Civil War
Hot Springs valley, 1867. Note chimneys of buildings burned during the Civil War.

The Early Years
French trappers, hunters, and traders became familiar with this region during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many probably knew the hot springs first-hand. In 1803 the United States acquired the area when it purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. The next year President Thomas Jefferson dispatched an expedition led by William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the newly acquired springs. Their report to the President was widely publicized and stirred up interest in the "hot springs of the Washita." In the years that followed, more and more people came here to soak in the waters. Soon the idea of “reserving” the springs for the nation took root, and territorial representative Ambrose H. Sevier submitted a proposal to Congress. Then in 1832, the federal government took the unprecedented step of setting aside four sections of land here. It was the first U.S. reservation made simply to protect a natural resource. Boundaries weren’t marked, and by the mid-1800s, individuals had filed claims and counterclaims on the springs and the land surrounding them.

Early Bathhouses
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 water and steam. Hot Springs Creek, which ran right through the middle of all this activity, drained its own watershed and collected the runoff of the springs. Generally it was an eyesore-dangerous at times of high water, and mere collections of stagnant pools at dry times. In 1884 the federal government put the creek into a channel, roofed over it over, and laid a road down above it. Much of it runs under Central Avenue today.

Tinted post card of Bathhouse Row in 1908 in the winter. Gentlemen stroll in front of the Palace Bathhouse with the Maurice Bathhouse on the right and the Arlington Hotel visible in the background. On left side of the sidewalk are the slender bare trunks of the Lombardy poplars with some Southern magnolia greenery visible, and on the right side are bare young elm tree trunks.
Bathhouse Row, 1908. At that time it was called the "Magnolia Promenade." See the columns of the park formal entrance on the right and the Maurice Bathhouse and the Arlington Hotel.

Seeking Health and Luxury
The government took active control of the springs and Reservation for the first time after all of the private claims on Reservation land were settled in 1877. It approved blueprints for private bathhouses ranging from simple to luxurious. The government even operated a free bathhouse and public health facility for those unable to pay for baths recommended by their physician. Gradually Hot Springs came to be called "The American Spa." Slogans such as "Uncle Sam Bathes the World" and "The Nation's Health Sanitarium" were used to promote the city. Because minorities did not have equal access to the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, African American-owned facilities opened nearby beginning in 1905.

By 1921, the Hot Springs Reservation had become a popular destination for vacationers and health remedy seekers. The new National Park Service's first director, Stephen Mather, convinced Congress to declare the reservation the 18th national park. Monumental bathhouses built along Bathhouse Row about that time catered to crowds of health-seekers. These new establishments, full of the latest equipment, pampered the bather in artful surroundings. The most expensive had marble and tile decorated walls, floors, and partitions. Some rooms sported polished brass, murals, fountains, statues, and even stained glass. Gymnasiums and beauty shops helped cure-seekers in their efforts to feel and look better.

The Army/Navy Hospital, now the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center, is located just above the south end of Bathhouse Row. Their use of the hot spring water for treatments contributed to a boost in the bathing business during and immediately after World War II. By the 1950s, changes in the field of medicine led to a rapid decline in the use of water therapies. People also started taking driving vacations rather than traveling by train to a single destination. One by one as business declined, the bathhouses began to close. The Buckstaff has been the only traditional bathhouse operating on Bathhouse Row since 1985. In the summer of 2008, the newly leased, updated Quapaw Bathhouse is reopening as a modern day spa.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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101 Reserve Street
Hot Springs , AR 71901


(501) 620-6715

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