Hot Springs


  Native Americans must have been amazed when they first came across the 143 degree hot springs in what is now south central Arkansas.  Should be no surprise that they imputed therapeutic properties thereto.  Choctaw introduced French trappers to the area in the 1700s and word spread.  After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson sent the (subsequently unheralded and overshadowed) Dunbar and Hunter expedition to investigate.

  Their reports were widely circulated and the purported healing properties catalyzed great interest.  The Hot Springs’ reputation grew so that in 1832 the federal government set aside four sections of land as its first act in protection of a natural resource.  Luxurious bathhouses arose to rival Europe’s finest.  In 1921 the Hot Springs National Park was established.

  Popularity peaked during the war years when 1 million baths were given annually.  It was ironic therefore that advancements in medicine born of wartime necessity led to a rapid decline visits during the fifties.  The rise of the motor vacation and its attendant flexibility also carried away many erstwhile bathers.

  Today two bathhouses remain in operation and others have been similarly carefully refurbished and are in the process of being repurposed.  Bathhouse Row now imbues one with a magical sense of place and time.  My first view down its length immediately brought to mind the first panning shot of the Grand Ballroom of the Titanic in the eponymous film*.

  The Fordyce Bathhouse has become Park Headquarters and museum.  The Quapaw and Buckstaff remain in operation.  The Ozark reopened as the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art.  Nearby burgeoning retirement communities and proximity of potential weekend vacationers from Houston, Dallas, and other major metro areas virtually guarantee that it is only a matter of time till Bathhouse Row assumes even greater new splendor.


  Hot Springs National Park is one of about half of America’s best ideas to host artist-in-residency programs, hence our visit.  My artist took up hers several weeks ago a Gulpha Gorge stone bungalow.  As expected, by the time I arrived, she had befriended nearly everyone, had explored nearly every corner, created a prodigious amount of work – pottery and watercolors, and provided children with the benefits of her talent and warm enthusiasm***.

*I was thus induced to attempt to pick out the theme of the movie on the guitar I’d brought along.  Thought I’d figured it out and asked family members to guess (wife in person and others via Skype).  Closest anyone guessed was son: “Mission Impossible?”  Me very talented.

**Photo at bottom is of the A-I-R with HSNP Superintendant Josie Fernandez.   

***She sent home an in situ self portrait which developed an ever greater Klimptian aura as my bachelorhood bore on.

2 Responses to “Hot Springs”

  1. Mary Ann Weld Crane Says:

    Loved the camp story. When did she go to Hillaway?

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