Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Hot Springs
National Park owe their existence to an array of springs that still supply
naturally heated water for thermal baths. The historic Fordyce Bathhouse, located on
famous Bathhouse Row, serves as the park’s visitor center.
Hot Springs National Park is the
smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System. It dates back to
1832 when Congress established, 40 years ahead of Yellowstone, the first
federally protected area in the nation's history. Hot Springs Reservation,
which was renamed Hot Springs National Park in 1921, was created to protect the
47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs
Mountain. Visiting the park is free.
Hot Springs, AR, which is the
boyhood home of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is located in Garland
County. Along with the national
park it is home base to live thoroughbred racing and gaming at Oaklawn, Magic
Springs/Crystal Falls theme and water parks, the 210-acre Garvan Woodland
Gardens, The Gangster Museum of America, and a renowned arts community. The city is home to about 35,000 people.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is also known for
many annual local events including the Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs
Documentary Film Festival, Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival, Hot
Springs Jazz Festival, Hot Springs Blues Festival, the downtown Bathtub Races
and the World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade.
The city is rich in
history. In 1818, Quapaw Indians ceded the land to the U.S. during a treaty
signing in St. Louis, Missouri. On April 20, 1832, four years before Arkansas
became a state, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill making the springs and environs the
first federally protected area in the nation.
In 1862, Hot Springs was
the capital of Arkansas when Governor Henry Massie Rector moved his staff and state
records there to protect them from the Union troops marching on Little Rock
during the Civil War.
After the Civil War ended,
the city underwent a construction boom of bathhouses and hotels. Garland County
was created in 1873 from parts of Hot Spring, Montgomery, and Saline counties. In 1875, a businessman from Ohio named
Samuel Fordyce built the Arlington Hotel, the first luxury hotel in the city.
In 1882, the county
converted a house downtown into the first courthouse. It was destroyed by fire
a few years later, was rebuilt downtown and burned again in 1905. Later that
year, the site for the present day courthouse was selected. In 1913, it,
along with 60 blocks of the city, was severely damaged by fire. Its frame
remained and was restored. In 1979, it was listed on the National Register
of Historic Places.
Oaklawn Park opened in
1905 and by 1921 Hot Springs, AR had developed into a popular vacation resort destination
featuring gambling, a national park, thermal water spas and horse racing.
Bathhouse Row, as it exists
today, is a collection of eight architecturally significant bathhouses, most of
which were built between 1912 and 1923. Two of the structures, the Buckstaff
and the Quapaw, currently operate as bathhouses offering spa services.
Illegal casino gambling
thrived in the city during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, until Governor Winthrop Rockefeller
closed the casinos in 1967. The Gangster Museum of America focuses on the
1920s-40s era of the town, when gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano
vacationed here. Owney “The Killer” Madden, owner of the famous Cotton Club in New York and who was heavily involved in organized crime during Prohibition, moved to the Spa City in 1935, living there until his death in 1965.
The Bank of the Ozarks Arena is connected
to the Hot Springs Convention Center and hosts concerts, sports, and shows.
Outdoor activities in the area include mountain biking, hiking, golf, horseback
riding, and fishing, digging for quartz crystals, and water sports that center
around lakes Hamilton, Ouachita, Catherine, and DeGray. More outdoor options can
also be found at the Ouachita National Forest.
Plan a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to experience this unique town in The Natural State! You can find accommodations, restaurants, activities and more on the right – but feel free to explore a bit and find your own hidden treasures in town!