Hot Springs in the 19th Century was a very much different place than it is today. When Emmanual Prudhomme arrived in Hot Springs in 1807 he was the first white man to spend significant time here, and he came because he had heard of the healing powers of the hot springs to be found here. It was an area that had been known about since 1673 when Father Marquette and Jolliet claimed the land for France. in 1763 the land was ceded to Spain, it was reclaimed by France in 1800, and finally became part of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. He settled in among indigenous people from three Indian Nations among them the Quapaw, who’s people had been using the hot springs for centuries. By 1870 the population had risen to 1200; by 1873 there were 6 bathouses and 24 hotels and boarding houses!
Folks — read that ‘white folks’ were arriving by stagecoach and train in the tradition of the South — it was primarily black folk who attended them — but there were separate facilities for the blacks to use “take the waters”, separated from the main facilities, as was common in The South of the time. You can’t visit any historical site in the U.S. South with the racial component; it’s an indelible part of U.S. history and should be remembered with as much poignancy as our treatment of the Indigenous Peoples — who’s Trail of Tears passed slightly to the north through Missouri.
The Hot Springs National Park was first preserved by the U.S. Congress as a “reservation” in 1832 — Long before there was any talk about National Parks. When the National Park System came into being Hot Springs was folded into that entity. But, originally, the area was deemed of such significant national interest as to deserve preservation. This idea kept running through my mind as I went through the museum and exhibits.
I was struck by the strong comparisons in the displays between U.S. and European “Spas” — it’s clear that Hot Springs was looked upon as an American replacement for European spas; a bit of posh in a new nation struggling for equal footing among the nations of earth. I was reminded of other parts of simliar historical monuments and I really got to wondering how much of U.S. development was the result of our citizens struggling with national Second Child Syndrome. Other nations had more years on us; they were further developed, had more culture, more art, you know the drill…
At any rate, the desire to excel pushed development and ‘taking the waters’ was accompanied by massages, and manipulations, and electrical stimulation galore. The waters leave the earth at some 143º (average) and are cooled to temperature tolerable to the human body. The old bathhouses were segregated by gender, men using one area, women using another. We were both struck by the size of the accommodations — cots, and changing rooms were tiny compared to what we would expect today, but they serviced the average american of the day.
There’s shopping galore, tourist attractions galore, enough restaurants to make you dizzy, and it’s easy to see why people visit, why they return year after year, and why the area is booming and changing. Clearly facilities that age suffer deterioration and need refurbishment — and sometimes replacement. The locals aren’t happy about all of the changes and they would love to see some facilities saved rather than replaced but change is a constant in this world, even at tourist attractions.
On the downside, this is definitely a linear town. The business district runs continuously for miles (I think about 10 miles of shopping centers, gas stations, and restaurants) before you arrive in the downtown area. There’s not a lot of depth along that drive — a few blocks each side of the main drag — so congestion can mount up. But it’s a destination and people seem to take that with a grain of salt. Of course we’re here at the end of October — I don’t think this is prime tourist season!
There you have our day in Hot Springs. It’s a nice place. A lot of people — you know Peg & I aren’t lots-of-people persons so I don’t know the liklihood that we’ll make this a regular visit, or even a second visit. We’ll see how we feel about it after we leave, and whether the urge to return haunts us.
I really enjoyed the history. If that’s your thing — do spend some time here. There’s also a lot of water, a lot of hotel/condo accommodations here, a lot of marinas, and I’m sure a lot of wildlife to be hunted, fished for, etc..
Thanks for stopping by, and tomorrow’s a driving day so the blog will be a bit shorter. I’ll be here; you too?