|Bathhouses||Establishment||Geology||Size and Visitation||The Water|
Congress established Hot Springs Reservation on April 20, 1832 to protect hot springs flowing from the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain. This makes it the oldest park currently in the National Park System--40 years older than Yellowstone National Park. People have used the hot spring water in therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years to treat rheumatism and other ailments. The reservation eventually developed into a well-known resort nicknamed "The American Spa" because it attracted not only the wealthy but also indigent health seekers from around the world. Today the park protects eight historic bathhouses with the former luxurious Fordyce Bathhouse housing the park visitor center. The entire "Bathhouse Row" area is a National Historic Landmark District that contains the grandest collection of bathhouses of its kind in North America. By protecting the 47 hot springs and their watershed, the National Park Service continues to provide visitors with historic leisure activities such as hiking, picnicking, and scenic drives. Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park by a Congressional name change on March 4, 1921.
ACREAGE - as of September 23, 2000
In 1913, Colonel Samuel W. Fordyce planned a "...veritable temple of health and beauty as a monument and grateful tribute of the fact that his life had been saved by the use of the life- giving waters." His "temple" opened on 01 Mar 1915, to an enthusiastic public. The Fordyce offered the widest range of medical therapies and leisure amenities to its seekers of health, relaxation and service.
The elaborate architectural style of the Fordyce Bathhouse (Spanish Renaissance Revival) and the sanctuary in the men's bath hall pay tribute to Hernando de Soto's sixteenth century expedition which brought the first Europeans into the area. Much of the building's terra cotta detailing and the aquatic images in the stained windows emphasize the importance of the waters of Hot Springs. The exterior terra cotta detailing above the front second floor windows pay homage to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
The Fordyce Bathhouse suspended operations in 1962. The National Park Service acquired the structure, clearing the way for it to be adaptively restored as a Visitor Center, complete with historically furnished rooms, exhibits, and bookstore. The building reopened on 13 May 1989, again to an enthusiastic reception, and again as a "monument" - but this time to the lifestyle of another era. The adaptive use of the building leads the way for similar uses of the remaining buildings on famous Bathhouse Row.
Since business declined after the advent of modern medicines, only the Buckstaff remains open for the traditional bath on the Row.
Tradition has it that the first Europeans to see the springs were the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his troops in 1541. French trappers, hunters, and traders became familiar with the area in the late 17th century. In 1803, the United Stated acquired the area when it purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. The very next year President Thomas Jefferson dispatched an expedition led by William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the newly acquired springs. Their report to the President was widely publicized and stirred up interest in the "Hot Springs of the Washita." In the years that followed, more and more people came here to soak in the waters. Soon the idea of "reserving" the springs for the Nation took root, and a proposal was submitted to the Congress by the territorial representative, Ambrose H. Sevier. Then in 1832, the Federal Government took the unprecedented step of setting aside four sections of land here, the first US reservation made simply to protect a natural resource. Little effort was made to mark boundaries adequately, and by the mid 1800's, claims and counterclaims were filed on the springs and the land surrounding them.
The earliest bathhouses were crude structures of canvas and lumber, little more than tents perched over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of rock. Later, wooden structures were built, but they frequently burned, collapsed because of shoddy construction, or rotted due to continued exposure to water and steam. Hot Spring Creek, which ran right through the middle of all this activity, drained its own watershed and collected the runoff of the springs. Generally it was an eyesore; dangerous at times of high water, and mere collections of stagnant pools at dry times. In 1884 the creek was put into a channel, roofed over, and a road laid down above it. Today this is Central Avenue.
In the 1870's the government continued to control the springs and to reserve certain areas as federal property. Private bathhouses, under the supervision of the Federal Government, were allowed to be built. These establishments ranged from the simple to the luxurious. The government even operated a US Free bathhouse and a Public Health facility. Gradually Hot Springs came to be called "the National Spa," and such slogans as "Uncle Sam Bathes the World" and "the Nation's Health Sanitarium" were used to promote the city. By 1921, the Hot Springs Reservation was such a popular destination for vacationers and seekers of health remedies that the new National Park Service's first director, Stephen Mather, convinced congress to declare the reservation the 18th national park. Monumental bathhouses built along Bathhouse Row about that time catered to crowds of health seekers. These new establishments, full of the latest equipment, pampered the bather in artful surroundings. Marble and tile decorated walls, floors and partitions. Some rooms sported polished brass, murals, fountains, statues, and even stained glass. Gymnasiums and beauty shops helped cure seekers in their efforts to feel and look better.
The Army / Navy Hospital (now the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center) just above the south end of Bathhouse Row contributed to a continued high level of activity during World War II and immediately after. Shortly thereafter, however, changes in medical technology and in the use of leisure time resulted in a rapid decline in water therapies. People also started to prefer taking to the open roads in their own cars rather than traveling by train to a specified destination and staying in a hotel a week or two. One by one the bathhouses began to close down as business declined. Today only one of the buildings on Bathhouse Row operates as a traditional bathhouse.
Despite the decline, bathing continues to be a popular past time. A full range of options is available today: tub and pool baths, shower, steam cabinet, hot and cold packs, whirlpool, and massage. The bathhouses are operated by private concessioners or special use permit holders who provide services in accordance with regulations and inspections by the National Park Service.
The hot springs are a special natural resource. The tradition of drinking the water and using it for bathing continues today, just as in days past. The pure tasting and orderless water of Hot Springs National Park has long been considered among the country's best. The park maintains several thermal water jug fountains and two cold spring jug fountains. Many visitors and local residents collect the water in jugs and take it home with them.
Water is what attracts people to Hot Springs. In fact they have been coming here since the first person stumbled upon these springs perhaps 10,000 years ago. Stone artifacts found in the park give evidence that Indians knew and used the hot springs. For them the area was a neutral ground where different tribes came to hunt, trade and bathe in peace. Surely they drank the spring waters too, for they found the waters with minerals and gases have a pleasant taste and smell. These traces of minerals, combined with a temperature of 143� F, are credited with giving the waters whatever therapeutic properties they may have. Waters from the cold springs, which have different chemical components and properties, are also used for drinking. Besides determining the chemicals composition and origins of the waters, scientists have determined that the waters gushing from the hot springs are more than 4,000 years old. And the waters gush at an average rate of 850,000 gallons a day.
The most important thing about Hot Springs' thermal water is that it is sterile. For this reason the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chose this water, among others, in which to hold the moon rocks while looking for signs of life. Even during the many early years that the springs were uncovered, the absence of bacteria in the water helped prevent the spread of disease. Today most of the springs have been covered to prevent contamination. Various open springs and a spring cascade on the Arlington Lawn give an idea of what the area would look like.
The main attraction has always been the hot spring water and baths, given at magnificent bathhouses (a total of eight) on Bathhouse Row. In the past the baths were taken as a therapeutic treatment for rheumatism and other ailments.
Many of the hot springs are now covered with green concrete boxes. These boxes keep the waters clean and available for bathing and drinking without artificial chemical treatment.
The words "hot springs" often conjure up images of volcanoes, geysers, and underground chambers of molton rock or magma, and usually these features are found associated with hot springs.
But in this area, the earth is relatively quiet. There is no evidence of magma lying close below the earth's surface to heat underground water. Instead geologists believe that just the right combination of rock types and old faults exists here to permit water to perculate deep, where it is heated by surrounding rock.
Carbon - 14 dating methods and the measurement of tritium (an isotope of hydrogen) show that the hot springs water began as rainwater which fell over 4,000 years ago.
Two rock types in the area, Bigfork Chert and Arkansas Novaculite, act like giant sponges, they are porous or highly fractured. Lying in tilted layers, these rocks absorb the rain and conduct it slowly downward to a great debth. The water travels downward for nearly 4,000 years to depths between 2,000 and 8,000 feet.
A natural thermal gradient heats the water, the deeper into the earth it travels, the hotter it gets. Heat is supplied from the radioactive breakdown of particles found throughout the earth's crust.
At great depth the heated water comes into contact with cracks and faults within the Hot Springs Sandstone. These cracks bring the water quickly, in about a year, back up to emerge as hot springs on the slope of Hot Springs Mountain. The water retains most of its heat during this relatively upward journey and arrives at the surface at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit.
In an arc from the northwest around to the east, outcroppings of Bigfork Chert and Arkansas Novaculite absorb rainfall. The pores and fractures in the rocks conduct the water deep into the Earth. As the water percolates downward, the increasingly warmer rock heats it, and filters out the impurities. In the process the water dissolves minerals in the rocks. Eventually the water meets the faults and joints in the Hot Springs Sandstone leading up to the lower west side of Hot Springs Mountain where it flows to the surface.
Activity & Calendar Page
Address, Email & Phone Guide
Brochures, Maps, Written Info
Civil War Weekend
Fordyce Bath House
Horse & Stock Info
Jobs, SCA, Volunteer Positions
Junior Ranger Programs
National Trails Day
Size & Visitation Info
"Taking the Baths"
Wildlife and Wildflowers
Click Here to obtain Advertising Information on this Page
This site is in no way associated with the United States Government, the Department of the Interior or the National Park Service