(ODD)yssey, Blog Post

Hot Springs, Ark., was one of the coolest cities we visited: Road-trip recap

From Sunday, July 21 through Friday, July 26, Sweetums and I drove 2,150 miles from Huntsville, Alabama, to Fort Worth, Texas, and back again. I am posting the stops in order of the trip. Most sites will be included in my upcoming Guide to Southern Oddities.

Stop No. 17: Hot Springs, Ark.

I’d always been curious about Hot Springs, Ark., although I knew very little about it. When we had the chance to stay overnight, we decided to explore the town of about 36,000 people.

Hot Springs is one of those towns that benefitted from having natural springs whose waters were thought to be healthful in the Victorian era. What makes Hot Springs a little different from other such sites is that the entire downtown is centered on the springs, which are now a National Park.

In this story, I’ll tell you a little about the town and its history and share photos. Later this week, I’ll take you on a virtual tour of a historic bathhouse in Hot Springs.

Our summer trip

The springs

The “hot springs” for which the city is named so interesting. There are several springs and fountains and faucets are placed around the downtown area so residents and tourists can fill containers with the water the bubbles out. And, yes, it is hot water.  Stores sell plastic gallon jugs and souvenir glass bottles so visitors can take the mineral water home. About 1 million gallons flow from the springs every day.

Hot Springs was given federal protection in 1832 and quickly became a spa town. One of the most fascinating features is a row of historic bathhouses directly across from downtown shops and restaurants. The eight surviving historical bathhouse are being preserved in a variety of ways. Two still offer spa treatments, one is a National Park Welcome Center and museum, one is a brewery and others are shops. The buildings are fascinating from the outside, as well, with beautiful and ornate architecture.

Quapaw Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Ark. This bathhouse still operates as a spa where people can enjoy bathing in the natural springs. (Photo by Kelly Kazek | Permission Required)

Across from the bathhouses, visitors will find shopping, dining and a variety of entertainment. The Central Avenue Historic District also features some interesting architecture. Boutiques, toy stores, candy and souvenir shops, galleries and more line the street, interspersed with the kind of unusual entertainment you might find in a tourist town. There’s the Gangster Museum of America, Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Maxwell Blade’s Curiosity Museum and the Galaxy Connection, which is a Star Wars museum. Away from downtown, you’ll find wacky tourist attractions like the Alligator Farm, a tribute to Babe Ruth’s first homerun and Bill Clinton’s high school. We didn’t have time for everything this trip, though, so we stuck to Central Avenue.

At one time, Hot Springs was a destination for gamblers and ball players. Baseball players like Babe Ruth came to train and used the springs to ease sore muscles. More than 130 Hall-of-Famers once trained in Hot Springs. Jackie Robinson even played an exhibition game there. Apparently, Al Capone, Owney Madden and other mobsters enjoyed spa treatments, as well, and at one time the city had 10 casinos and a booming prostitution business.

We just adored this little town and hope to go back to experience the spa treatment we didn’t have time for on this trip. The National Park Service does an incredible job maintaining the bathhouses and providing great educational information on the area. The city itself was clean and everyone was friendly.

Check out our photos below and check back later this week to see our tour of the bathhouse museum, which was really amazing.

Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Quapaw Baths, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The old Ohio and Southern Clubs Building, downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Marker for the Ohio and Southern Clubs building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Fordyce Bathhouse, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A drinking fountain with hot spring water, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A resident fills jugs with hot spring water in downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Detail of a historic bathhouse, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Fordyce Bathhouse, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Tile detailing, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A memorial to a park ranger. The hat is carved from stone. Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Me trying out the antique tub, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Sweetums trying the tub, Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Our youngest, Groover, tries out an antique bathtub on Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Central Avenue Historic District, Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Central Avenue Historic District, Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Central Avenue Historic District, Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Mural in downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
These steps lead to the promenade, which was where the wealthy people who came to Hot Springs in the Victorian era could see and be seen. Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Hot Springs temporarily served as the state capital during the Civil War.
Historic Arlington Hotel, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Sweetums hangs out with Capone, downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Don’t I always? Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
One of the old bathhouses is now a brewery that serves beer made from the spring water. Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Downtown Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A tribute to the numerous ball players who trained in Hot Springs. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A spring above Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Ark. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Looking at downtown Hot Springs from the promenade. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)

4 thoughts on “Hot Springs, Ark., was one of the coolest cities we visited: Road-trip recap”

  1. Love it. If you’ve never watched the documentary “The Boys of Spring” about the early history of baseball and Hot Springs with commentary by Billy Bob Thornton find and watch it. (ESPN or HBO produced it.) May put Hot Springs on my bucket list after your article and pictures.

    Like

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