Centrepiece & glass ceiling, Fordyce Bathhouse
The men’s bath hall exemplifies the sumptuous design of Fordyce Bathhouse. The centrepiece of the bath hall is a ceramic statue of Spaniard Hernando De Soto, the first European to explore the southern part of the modern day USA. The statue depicts a Caddo Indian princess handing him a container of water. If such an encounter actually took place it is unlikely to have been in this area. While De Soto’s expedition did travel through part of Arkansas, records suggest that he did not visit Hot Springs. The roof over the statue is a stained glass window entitled "Neptune's Daughter" made in St Louis Missouri from over 8000 individual pieces of glass.
Of the many bathhouses that were built in Hot Springs only Buckstaff Baths remained in continuous operation. Opened in 1912 the baths still offer traditional thermal mineral baths and Swedish style massage in a thoroughly traditional environment.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot springs gurgle out of the ground here and entrepreneurs were quick to exploit them by building bathhouses. To prevent the rush to exploit the springs from damaging them, they were made a National Reservation in 1832 and in 1921 a National Park. The early bathhouses were modest affairs, but between 1911 and 1939 as the fame of Hot Springs spread these were replaced by more sumptuous edifices. After World War II improved medical treatment reduced the demand for mineral spring spas and by 1985 all but one of the bathhouses had closed. One was soon restored as a visitor center and museum but the rest remained derelict. In the 21st century, the bathhouses were renovated and one became a bathhouse and spa again. The other were put to new uses such as a shop or a brewery.
When we visited Hots Springs in 2004, only the Fordyce and Buckstaff Bathhouses were in a state that reflected their former glory. The others were enclosed behind wire fences and not open to visitors because their interiors had not been restored. When we returned to Hot Springs in 2019 we found a remarkable change in the fortunes of the old bathhouses. All have been restored and given a new use. After being abandoned for over 30 years, the Superior Bathhouse, shown here, is now the home of the Superior Bathhouse Brewery. The beer served in the former bathhouse is brewed using the same thermal spring water that was used by the bathhouses. Click Tab 2 to see the Superior Bathhouse in 2004 when it was abandoned.
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Fordyce Bathhouse Music Room
The music room or assembly room was where both men and women could go to relax between stages of their treatment. The room was intended to be used for social functions, but the Federal Government, which controlled Bathhouse Row via the National Reservation, disapproved of social gatherings in a place that it considered to be a form of hospital. The government rather reluctantly permitted the playing of music in the assembly room, but the choice of music was subject to censorship. Less controversial activities available at the bathhouse included a workout in a well equipped gym. Click Tab 2 to see a picture of the Gymnasium at Fordyce Bathhouse.
In 1873 businessman Sam Fordyce came to the hot springs to heal his Civil War wounds, and concluded that they had saved his life. He decided to invest in the spa town including building the most sumptuous bathhouse in Hot Springs. Opened in 1915, it cost over $200,000 to build and equip of the Fordyce Bathhouse. The high cost of building the bathhouse meant that it always had to charge higher prices than its competitors. By the early 1940s it had begun to boom but thereafter it went into decline due to changing customer demands. It closed in 1962 for modernisation but never reopened. In 1988 the bathhouse was restored and reopened as the Visitor Center for Hot Springs National Park and a Bathhouse Museum. Click Tab 2 to see the restore Hubbard Tub Room in the bathhouse.
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The Quapaw bathhouse was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style complete with its distinctive dome. It was originally planned to call it the Platt Bathhouse but the owners decided to adopt an Indian theme and called it the Quapaw Baths after an Indian tribe who lived in the area in the early 1800s. Despite its exotic exterior, the Quapaw was a moderately priced bathhouse which did not offer some of the more expensive add-on services. It opened in 1922 and closed in 1968 but reopened with a reduced service. It closed in 1984 because the building required costly repairs was derelict when we visited in 2004. In 2007 work began to bring Quapaw back to life. The new Quapaw Baths & Spa opened in 2008.
Hot Water Cascade, Arlington Lawn
Most of the hot springs that led to the creation of the town of Hot Springs are hidden under the bathhouse buildings, but at Arlington Lawn you can still see hot water coming out of the ground. The water coming out of the ground averages 62 degrees Celsius (143 Fahrenheit) so be careful!