Hot Springs National Park is all about water. Hot water, that is. Like the European bathhouses, the town of Hot Springs gained first life due to the natural hot springs that simmer up from deep in the Earth that were believed to bring miraculous cures for all your aches and pains. But the Europeans weren’t the only ones who knew the secrets of hot water. For thousands of years, Native Americans had come to the springs for their own health as well.
After the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition to check out these newly purchased lands. The expedition sent back the information about the springs and soon the “Hot Springs Reservation” became known as America’s Spa.
The lands were made government property in 1832 and soon, bathhouses were popping up along what is now Central Avenue. The area became known as Bathhouse Row.
It wasn’t until 1921 that Hot Springs became a National Park.
The visitor center for the park is located in the former Fordyce Bathhouse.
There is a guided tour you can take, but we opted for the self-guided tour. Our first stops were in the male treatment areas.
The men’s changing area boasts a stunning stained glass ceiling.
The ladies got their treatments upstairs from the men.
You could almost hear the quiet conversation of the ladies of the past who sat in these chairs or lounges and passed the time until their treatments.
There is an old elevator, still in use, in the building, that would have been used to transport their non-ambulatory patients up to this special bath tub on the 2nd floor.
Many different services were available to those who could afford them. Even medical foot care or barbering for gentlemen, while ladies might enjoy an electromassage or other pampering.
For those with a need for more physical activities, there was even a gymnasium available. I got exhausted just looking at it.
Down in the basement, you can actually see where the springs come up under the building, but the heat from them caused too much fog to get a clear picture. The waters naturally stay at 143 degrees Fahrenheit, so are stored beneath the bath house and then shot up the 3 stories using compressed air.
It was amazing to step back in time to see what people did back during the prime age of the American Spa. There’s an option through a third party vendor to take an actual bath in the Buckstaff bath house or the newly reestablished Quapaw bath house, for a more modern spa experience.