|Fordyce Visitor Center||List of Bathhouses||Scenic Drives||"Taking the Baths"|
Scheduled guided bathhouse tours and outdoor walking thermal features tours by park rangers and volunteers in season and upon request by advance reservation for groups during the remainder of the year. Wildflower walks, birding walks and other special hikes may be scheduled throughout the year.
There are self-guided tours all during the year, and campfire programs at the Amphitheater at Gulpha Gorge Campground during June, July and August. The evening summer campfire programs present a variety of in depth information on the history, natural history topics, and archeology of the area.
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.
"Within the lobby every detail calls for praise...Walls of veined Italian marble rise from mosaiced tiles, and stately staircases of pink marble lead to the second floor and basement."
Cherub fountains adorned both ends of the lobby, and lotus blossoms floated in the stained glass over the transom windows. Cast in bronze are the words: "May health and happiness accompany you all the days of your life."
Patrons purchased bath tickets (twenty-one baths for $15.00 in 1919) from the desk clerk, placed their small valuables in the brass lock boxes, and then turned themselves over for a relaxing, leisurely series of baths, ladies going to the south side of the building and men to the north.
Ladies' Bath Hall
"In the bath hall we find floors, walls and partitions of the same exquisite marble and tile�. The bath rooms [contain] vapor and tub baths, the fixtures of which are solid nickel�." Fordyce advertising booklet, 1915
Why were the baths so popular? This was a time when many of our modern medicines were yet undiscovered�cortisone, sulpha drugs, penicillin, and the polio vaccine were years in the future. For those who suffered from common ailments such as rheumatism, kidney disease, or liver problems, the best hope for cure or relief lay in the water of the hot springs.
A personal attendant (African American at all bathhouses except the Buckstaff) was assigned to guide each bather through the bathing process. For a complete look at this process which is little changed today, see Taking the Baths.
Ladies' Pack Room
Bathers rested on the porcelain cots while attendants wrapped them with steaming towel soaked in the hot spring water and wrung out. A brief stay in the needle shower cooled the bather after the hot packs.
Ladies' Cooling Room
After completing the bathing regimen, the bather rested quietly at least thirty minutes in the cooling room. This allowed the body temperature to return to normal. If desired, the bather proceeded to the massage department on the third floor.
"A feature of great scientific interest is the hydrotherapeutic room� its equipment including sun-ray cabinets, frigid cabinets, devices for sprays, douches, Sitz baths, electric baths and the like." Fordyce advertising booklet, 1915
Local doctors prescribed hydrotherapy and electrotherapy to complement the bathing regime. The federal government requested bathhouses to remove these therapies by 1940.
A hydrotherapy control cabinet holds the controls to the Scotch Douche, Sitz bath, and needle shower. The Scotch Douche was used to relax muscles and nerves along the spinal column and stimulate circulation.
The electric bath included electrodes to allow low amperage current to be added to the water. This was used as a sedative or tonic depending on the type of current used.
The sun-ray cabinet was lined with light bulbs to provide dry heat to the entire body. A stay in it was restricted to thirty minutes or less. Immediately after the dry bake, the bather went to the adjoining frigid cabinet. A block of ice rested under the seat to cool the bather quickly.
Men's Bath Hall
Like Romans of old, men wrapped toga-style in bath sheets to lounge in this elegant court as they waited for baths. The central fountain depicts Hernando de Soto receiving a gift from a Caddo Indian maiden. The bathers, too, filled their cups and drank the hot water as they rested on the marble benches.
Twice as many men as ladies took baths in the early 1900s and that is reflected in the number of facilities provided for men. Two thirds of the bathing facilities are devoted to them as opposed to the ladies.
The chiropodist was the foot specialist of the day, ready to treat corns, bunions, and ingrown toenails. The left window shows the room set up for a gentleman awaiting treatment, and the right window shows the ladies' side set up as if a lady is having her feet cared for.
Visit the exhibit rooms for a more complete picture of the colorful past at Hot Springs. The smaller exhibit room contains a nine minute video which shows the traditional bathing procedure step-by-step.
Ladies' Dressing Room
The beautiful wood you see is birch, which is resistant to high humidity, stained to look like mahogany. There were many dressing rooms because the bathhouse was built to accommodate a great number of bathers per day.
Electro and Manchano Therapy Room
"Of unique interest is the mechano-therapy department, a chamber of scientific wonders, exhibiting to the dazed novice every conceivable mechanical device and ingenious 'Zander-Gymnastic' equipment."
Men's Massage Rooms
Notice the electric massage devices with various rubber attachments. Also, electric lamps were used to treat parts of the body. The last room contains an electric "shock" massager which caused muscles to contract or relax. By the 1930's doctors and hospitals had taken over these treatments, and this equipment was used less and less in bathhouses.
The splendid room at the top of the stairs is called the assembly room or music room.
"Here, under a wonderful ceiling of art glass in five remarkable pastels, amid lavish decorations and furnishings, social groups may gather at ease and listen to music of the best. Opening to the south is a ladies' palor and music room, with the gentlemen's parlor and billard room at the other extreme."
Here patrons could complete their day at the Fordyce, relaxing and making plans to enjoy some of the city's other pleasant diversions.
Hubbard Tub Room
Installed in 1939, this large tile covered tub was used for physical therapy. The rail was part of a transportation device used to bring patients from the elevator to the tub. A licensed physiotherapist was employed to treat patients here. Patients would either lie on a board, called a plinth, or they would stand, using the parallel bars which run the length of the tub for support. Hubbard Tubs are still used today for physical therapy.
Considered the largest gymnasium in Arkansas in 1915, this room was a special attraction at the Fordyce. The gymnasium was open to both men and women, and athletes as well as bathers worked out here.
Mant famous athletics like Jack Dempsey worked out in this gymnasium.
Follow the sign to the Fordyce Spring, a thermal spring that was unearthed when the building was constructed. To the left of the Fordyce Spring, you will see the historic elevator machinery. Modern restroom facilities, drinking fountains, and a public phone are located in the basement.
Excerpts are taken from the Fordyce Bath House booklet which is for sale in the Visitor Center Bookstore.
Two mountain driving tours bring you closer to the park's natural beauty and allow access to picnic areas, scenic vistas, and hiking trails.
|Hot Springs Mountain||2.5 miles||45 minutes||From the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center travel north on Highway 7 to the first right, which is Fountain Street. Follow the signs for Hot Springs Mountain. Several overlooks and the Mountain Tower at the summit offer views of the surrounding mountains and city. Comfort stations are located at the summit. Vehicles longer than 30 feet are not permitted because of the sharp hairpin curves.|
|West Mountain||2.0 miles||40 minutes||From the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center travel north on Highway 7 to Whittington Avenue and turn left. Turn left again at the "West Mountain Drive" sign to begin the tour. After approximately one mile, take the side trip to the summit of West Mountain.|
Tips and Hints
Traditional thermal baths are available on Bathhouse Row at Buckstaff Bathhouse. The Hot Springs Health Spa, also located in the park, offers the facilities of a modern health spa.
Steps to "Take the Bath"
|Arlington Hotel Bathhouse||501-623-7771|
|Downtowner Hotel Bathhouse||501-624-5521|
|Hot Springs Health Spa||501-321-9664|
|Majestic Hotel Bathhouse||501-623-5511|
|Park Hilton Bathhouse||501-623-6600|
|Libbey Memorial Physical Medical Center||501-321-9664|
|Leo N. Levi Arthritis Hospital||501-624-1281|
For information on hikes, see the Hiking Page.
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