Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Historic Places: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs might be the United States' oldest resort town. Since before written histories were kept, people have traveled to this midwestern town to soak up the 143 degree water that fountains clean and clear from the ground.

In the late 19th century, Hot Springs became a European style spa town while the area around it was still considered frontier. Victorian luxury resorts lined the main street, which became known as Bathhouse Row. Almost 400 years after the first European visitor to Hot Springs, it was declared a National Park in 1921.

Because of its remote location and status as a vacation getaway, Hot Springs was a popular destination for illegal gambling and drinking in the 1920s and 1930s. Mobsters such as Al Capone are known to have stayed there, giving Hot Springs a welcome economic boost during the Great Depression.

Fordyce Bathhouse was the place to be on Central Avenue when men like Frank Costello and Owney Madden made Hot Springs a hub for mobsters and their illicit activities. Today, the bathhouse is a visitor center and museum, where one can walk through displays and rooms restored to how they would have looked in 1915 when the Fordyce was named the best place to stay in Hot Springs.

The Buckstaff Baths is an Edwardian resort spa, built in 1912, the 27,000 sq-ft structure cost $125,000 to build in the most modern luxury standards of the time. At its height, Buckstaff served 1,000 visitors each day. It remains one of the best preserved resorts in Hot Springs.

During the 1960s the spas of Bathhouse Row declined in popularity and went out of business one after another. In order to salvage the history of the town, the buildings were placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974. 

Guests to the various resorts and spas in Hot Springs can soak in the mineral baths, enjoy a massage, and relax amid the stunning natural surroundings, just as visitors have done for centuries. The town is also surrounded by mountains, forests, lakes, and miles of hiking trails. If you enjoy spending time outdoors, but not necessarily lying on a beach, Hot Springs is a beautiful spot to spend your spring break camping, fishing, horseback riding, or golfing, with a nice dose of history on the side.


  1. There's a place called Thermopolis in Wyoming. It's a very interesting town you might want to do a post on it.

    1. If I ever make it there, I will. I only write about places that I have personally visited.