Arkansas became part of the USA as a result of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. It is not a state that generated a huge amount of publicity until a boy born in Hope Arkansas grew up to become President, but there’s much more to the state than Bill Clinton. In 1999 we passed through Arkansas along the Mississippi on our way from Illinois to Memphis, Tennessee. The scenery was uneventful to the extent of being downright boring, so no photographs were taken. In May 2004 we travelled to Hot Springs and Fort Smith and saw Arkansas in a totally new light.
Hot Springs from Mountain Tower
In 1804 President Jefferson sponsored an expedition led by William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore this part of the newly acquired territories. In early December the expedition was in the Ouachita Mountains where they noted that "… the hot springs themselves are indeed a great curiosity; the temperature of their waters is from 130 to 150° of Farheneits' [sic] thermometer”. People were soon attracted to the area by the ‘healing waters’ and in 1832 it was made a National Reservation in order to preserve the springs. The town of Hot Springs developed around a row of bathhouses that are now a National Park. The town’s most recent claim to fame is that it was Bill Clinton’s home for part of his childhood.
Miss Laura's Bordello, Fort Smith
A part of American history that often gets glossed over has been preserved in Fort Smith, indeed this is the only whorehouse in the US on the National Register of Historic Places. Miss Laura was Laura Zeigler who in 1903 borrowed $3,000 to purchase this building close to both the river and the railroad. While running a bordello was illegal the fine was only $5, which was just regarded as a monthly business overhead. Zeigler sold the bordello in 1911 as a going concern for $47,000. Although no longer offering its traditional services and damaged by a tornado in the 1990s, the house has now been restored to reflect the way it would have looked in its heyday.
Plaza Hotel, Hot Springs
While the elegant architecture of the bath houses in Hot Springs has been preserved by the National Park, the buildings that sprang up on the opposite side of Central Avenue to serve their customers are now on the National Register of Historic Places. This was originally the Nicholas Hotel built in 1890 to provide more affordable accommodation than its more upmarket counterparts. It is the oldest hotel building still standing in Central Avenue opposite Bathhouse Row. The curved bay window was added between 1908 & 1915, and it echoes the design of the bay window on the adjoining Ohio Club built in 1905.
Fort Smith Trolley Museum
Believe it or not, this is an original Fort Smith trolley (or tram for those from the UK) and you can go for a ride on it through the streets of Fort Smith. The driver from the Fort Smith Trolley Museum will tell you all about the history of the trolley system during your ride from the bridge to the National Cemetary. At one dollar per head it is the best value attraction in the USA apart from the Staten Island Ferry which costs a dollar less! Click on Tab 2 for a view from inside the trolley
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