The Garvan Gardens Trains in Hot Springs

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The Garvan Gardens Trains at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.
The Garvan Gardens Trains at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.

Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs is a 210-acre botanical garden on the shores of Lake Hamilton

“Garvan Woodland Gardens is among the most celebrated gardens in the country,” said Bob Cross, lead engineer for the Garvan Woodland Garden Trains. “Visitors come from around the world to see the ever-changing foliage and the special celebrations, such as the tulip festival and Holiday Lights, that are held throughout the year. The Gardens contain several impressive architectural structures like the Tree House and Anthony Chapel. However, one of the most fun and entertaining activities is the Suggs Model Train Garden, also known as the Garvan Gardens Trains.”

The Garvan Gardens Trains can be found at the Gardens across from the Chipmunk Café, where visitors can grab a bite while there. 

The train layout is in a natural setting and is garden scale with four separate track layouts. “Two of the track layouts are a legacy to Mrs. Verna Cook Garvan and the major businesses that she ran for many years in central Arkansas,” said Cross. “They were the Wisconsin-Arkansas Lumber Company and the Malvern Brick and Tile. Tile manufacturing continues in Malvern today by ACME Brick and Tile. The buildings associated with each represent buildings of that time. The lumber company buildings are modeled after a 1903 photograph that was discovered in a local archive. A third line runs around the perimeter of the garden and represents the many diverse uses of the railroad in Arkansas over the years. The type and period of trains running on this track vary throughout the year. It may showcase a passenger train, some Union Pacific freight trains, and even some special Christmas trains during Holiday Lights beginning at Thanksgiving. However, the most cherished, especially among children, is the Thomas the Train layout which showcases the Thomas and friends locomotives, cars and buildings. Thomas runs on a small oval track which allows the kids to get a close-up of him more frequently. Normally, Thomas the Tank Engine and his two passenger cars, Annie and Clarabel, run on this track, but you might catch some friends on other tracks during special events.”

Garvan Gardens Trains

Cross said one of the best-kept secrets is the miniature animals that can be spotted throughout the train garden and represent animals found in Arkansas. 

Construction on the Suggs Garden Train Garden began in mid-2004 and opened by the end of that same year. It was built by a group of train enthusiasts from the Greater Hot Springs Garden Railroad Society, GHSGRS. The layout of the train garden is around 400 feet of track and 260 trestles and over the years many of the original buildings have been replaced. The GHSGRS no longer exists, but the members are now part of the Central Arkansas Railroad Enthusiast, and they continue to support the garden train when needed.

Cross said the trains are operated and maintained by a small group of Garvan Gardens volunteers, and made possible mostly through donations and gifts. The trains run daily from February to Dec. 31st and close when the temperature is too high or too cold for the locomotives. Throughout the year, these volunteers keep the trains running, maintain the track, trestles and buildings, and also put on special holiday trains. When a locomotive needs repairing, the volunteers fix it. They also put lights on the trains and tracks for the Gardens annual Holiday Lights event.  

“The Train Garden has become a must-see at the Gardens,” said Cross. “For young kids, it presents a fairy land of sights and sounds and, of course, they get to see Thomas and ring the bell next to Thomas’ tracks. Parents are as excited about watching their children as they are about the details in every part of the garden. For the older kids, it allows them to venture back to their childhood when they received their first train set.  If you stand near the train engineer station, you might pick up on a conversation about their first model train memories, or even their actual work on the railroads.”

If interested in becoming a volunteer for the Garvan Gardens Trains, you can reach out to the gardens at 501-262-9603. Cross said the train engineers are excited to welcome new volunteers and even if someone has little previous experience with model trains or maintaining them, seasoned engineers can provide training for them.