History of Hot Springs, Arkansas

How it got its name:

Hot Springs is located in the picturesque Ouachita (Wash-i-taw) Mountains, largely surrounded by Hot Springs National Park.  It gets its name from the natural spring water that flows out of the ground at 147 degrees F.  Each available fountain varies in degrees.

Early people:

In early Hot Springs it was known as a place of peace and various native tribes would gather to enjoy the mysterious waters.  At that time it was a valley between two mountains with the hot water creating a stream which is now under Central Avenue. 

Discovery from Europe and U. S. Purchase:

In 1541, the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto became the first European to explore and visit the springs.  He and his troops stayed for several weeks.  French trappers, traders, and hunters became familiar with the area in the late 17th century.  The U. S. acquired the area in 1803 when it was purchased in the Louisiana Territory from France.

Becoming an attraction:

Jean Prudhomme was the first settler in Hot Springs as well as others.  The springs were the main attraction as years went by and in 1832 a Mr. Belding was renting rooms to those who were partaking of the “healing waters”.  It was designated in 1832 as the FIRST NATIONAL RESERVATION to prevent commercial exploitation.  Hot Springs National Park was established in 1921.  During this time there were two dirt roads on either side of the creek for horse and carriages where the sidewalks are now.  Little shacks had been built on the side of the Hot Springs mountain for people to stay in and rent for use of the waters.  These were torn down. 

Civil War:

During the Civil War Hot Springs was used temporarily to hold the records of the capitol in Little Rock.  Later the town was burned by federal troops.  Most of the population moved to Texas and Louisiana during this time.  After the Civil War, an extensive rebuilding of bathhouses and hotels took place at Hot Springs. The year-round population soared to 1,200 inhabitants by 1870. By 1873 six bathhouses and 24 hotels and boarding houses stood near the springs. In 1874, Joseph Reynolds announced his decision to construct a narrow gauge railroad from Malvern, Arkansas, to Hot Springs; completion in 1875 resulted in the growth of visitation to the springs. Colonel Samuel W. Fordyce and two other entrepreneurs financed the construction of the first luxury hotel in the area, the first Arlington Hotel that opened in 1875.  During the Reconstruction period the Supreme Court had to rule on property rites in downtown Hot Springs and stated that it was owned by the federal government.  After lots of protests by the citizens, Congress formed the Hot Springs Commission to define property lines, condemn buildings illegally on the permanent reservation (now the national park) and define a process for claimants to purchase land.      

Bathhouses built:

During the early 1900s, thousands of people flocked the area to experience the waters' curative powers. Elaborate bathhouses were built to house the large number of tourists visiting the place for springs and spa treatments. Historic Bathhouse Row is a group of eight architecturally significant bathhouses, of which most were constructed between 1912 and 1923.  The Fordyce Bathhouse holds a tourist information center owned by the National Park that shows a film and gives out information about the history.  It is located in the middle of Bathhouse Row on Central Avenue, downtown.  It is free to visit and very informative.

Early Architectural Information:

Downtown Hot Springs is preserved as Hot Springs Central Avenue Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city also contains several historic hotels and motor courts, built during the Great Depression in the art deco style.

Noted Fires:

Hot Springs was incorporated as a town on January 10, 1851 and chartered as a city in 1879.  It was devastated by fire in 1878 and major fires recurred in 1903, 1913, and 1923.  (The records for when this home was built was lost during these fires.  Earlier owners said it was around the turn of the 20th century.  1900.)

Baseball History

The city has been home to Major League Baseball teams spring training camps in years past.  Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox made Hot Springs their home base. Baseball great Babe Ruth could be seen walking the streets, visiting the bath spas, and gambling at the nearby horse track.  Babe Ruth was said to have hit the longest home run ball ever recorded in a baseball field just past Whittington Park on Whittington Avenue, just west of Park Avenue.  There’s a marker on the spot.  There is a "Baseball Museum" at 211 E. Grand Avenue but I am not sure of the hours it is open.  They seem iffy.

Current legal gambling:

Oaklawn Park, the thoroughbred horse racing track and casino, south of downtown, is the only legal gambling establishment in Hot Springs now.

Famous vacationers from the past in Hot Springs:

Bat Masterson, Cy Young, Carrie Nation, John F. Kennedy, Billy Sunday, Al Capone, President Herbert Hoover, Helen Keller, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and even Frank and Jesse James.  Plus Wyatt Earp, Harry Truman, Will Rogers, Kate Smith, George Raft, Bugs Moran, Bill Clinton, Harry Connick, Jr., Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Bob Thornton.  Plus many, many more.  Some of the most famous people in the entertainment field have entertained in Hot Springs during the gambling era.  They were hired by the nightclubs.  One of the nightclubs on Park Avenue was called The Vapors, which was later a Church. 

Alan Ladd and Dick Powell and President Bill Clinton were from here.  Bill Clinton lived right down the street on Park Avenue.  He visited in this house several times since he was friends with the previous owners and swam in the pool that once was here on this property as a kid and teenager.