Hot Springs, the spa resort located in the southwestern part of the state of Arkansas, in the Ouachita Mountains, is mostly known for being the place where Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the USA, spent his childhood years, as well as for being a fashionable spot for gambling during the Al Capone era.
As it happens, people and fashions come and go, but the natural resources of the Ouachita River Basin, the novaculite stone of the area, and the numerous springs whose water reach almost 62 Celsius degrees when coming into the open, gave people permanent reasons to visit the area of Hot Springs. At first, people with various ailments were the majority of the visitors as it was believed by the Native American tribes who lived there, well before the Spanish explorers discover the area in the sixteenth century, that the hot waters of the springs had healing powers.
Consequently, starting the thirties of the nineteenth century, people of all conditions began to flock to Hot Springs to take the waters in remedy for their health issues. Although the state was not late in acknowledging the nation-wide importance of the area, in the beginnings of Hot Spring as a spa town, the places surrounding the springs as such were primitive: just some wood shelters covered by blankets where the sick enjoyed the benefits of water in the open, in the cold winter weather too.
The standard assumption that the growth of Victorian middle-class led to the birth of the concept of leisure is relevant in this case too. In addition to their primary medical function, spa areas became places of relaxation in the second half of the nineteenth century. Stylish bath facilities started to populate Hot Springs, as well-to-do and elegant families, came here in the need to maintain their health but also to socialize and to network with those alike. The owners of the baths wanted to offer to their customers the same comfort the latter enjoyed in their cosy villas and manors in the cities or on their estates.
This way, as early as 1875, the baths located near the original springs, along the main route of the town, made a little boulevard called the Bathhouse Row. The Victorian designed baths were still made of wood, which in contact with the steam of hot water could result in fast damage of the establishment, or even in the fire. Three years after, in 1878*, an important fire speeded up the construction of more durable establishments, made of brick and masonry.
The current buildings date from the period 1911-1939. Their constructors and designers made sure to equip the establishments with unique facilities, furniture, applied design or original lamp and stained-glass patterns, which would suggest their customers that their experience was really unique and definitely superior compared to that available the next door. The truth is that water quality was identical in all establishments of the Bathhouse Row.
The advent of modern medical procedures, starting the 1960s, led to the disappearance of customers, hence to the decay of the beautiful buildings and facilities on the Bathhouse Row to such an extent that they became dilapidated. Luckily, their changed status to National Historic Landmarks, in 1987, brought for them the chance of renovation, as well as their transformation in spaces relevant to the tourist industry, but particularly to the idea of conservation of the national and cultural American heritage. Accordingly, in the past 20 years, some of the establishments have become information centres and museums, art galleries, cultural centres, breweries. Some were even updated as spa and bathhouses*.
In what follows, let us present visually the most beautiful establishments of the Bathhouse Row, by providing few details about their current state too. We start our journey from the beautiful yellow Spanish mission style office of the National Historic Park Administration and we advance in the direction of the imposing Arlington Hotel, located at the end of the Bathhouse Row.
Lamar Bathhouse, named after Secretary of the Interior Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar*, got its current appearance (masonry) in 1923. The facade is a combination of so-called California style with obvious Art Deco features like signs and lights. The interior is also heavily inspired by Art Deco, especially visible in the stairs.
Buckstaff Baths sports neo-classic features visible in the columns and roof in contrast to a brick facade. The electric blue striped awnings give a cosy appearance to the establishment, evoking the southern patrician manors (the neo-classic style) with a modern city industrial look (the bricks). This establishment, which is also a hotel, still practices the traditional Hot Springs bathing.
Ozark* Bathhouse is built in the so-called mission style, a hint to the legend that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reached Hot Springs. The red clay roof tile is another feature that invites to Spanish associations. Otherwise, most of the other features (scroll and shield decorations, window planters design) refer to the style of the Roman baths.
Quapaw Bathhouse was finished in 1922 and occupies the site of two earlier Victorian time bathhouses, the Horseshoe and the Magnesia. It is the most arresting in appearance of the entire Baththouse Row as it has a dome that dominates the entire place. It is a ceramic tiled dome inspired by the bathhouse domes to be found in Northern Africa and Southern France. As the name shows, this construction pays homage to the Quapaw Indian tribe, which, together with Caddo and Choctaw tribes, were one of the major communities of Native Americans inhabiting the area. This is also attested by the head design of a Native American that overlooks the entrance to the bathhouse.
Fordyce Bathhouse was opened in 1915 by Samuel Fordyce and it was inspired by the bathhouses of Europe. It is built in the Renaissance Revival style hence it displays elegant windows, a copper glass marquee, stained glass ceilings, and terracotta fountains. At present, it is a visitor centre and a museum that has the merit of comprising everything related to the spa procedures at the turn of the twentieth century. We will dedicate an entire future article to Fordyce Bathhouse.
Maurice Bathhouse was built in the current form in 1911. It is a masonry structure of Mediterranean style. The interior design is heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts (e.g. the Roycrofter Movement* in this case) visible in the stained glass ceiling, in the panels, in the cobblestone fireplace. The main attractions are the mythical sea creatures, which enchant the visitor.
Superior Bathhouse was built in the current form in 1916. It closed in 1983 and it had
the longest continuous operation of all the town bathhouses. The interior design makes primary reference to the medical functionality: marble and brass are the main materials.
*Mary Bell Hill, Images of America: Hot Springs National Park, Charleston/South Carolina, 2014, p. 27.
* Mary Bell Hill, Images of America…, p.7.
*The details with reference to the establishments described here are taken from the information posts located in front of each of the attractions.
*Mary Bell Hill, Images of America…, p.31.
*Ozark is a name of a region in southern Missouri. Presumably, it comes from French (aux Arcs–
at the river bends)
*Roycroft, meaning King’s Craft (an allusion to the importance of the craftsmen in early modern Europe), was an Art and Craft Movement established at the end of the nineteenth century by Elbert Hubbard. The movement had a significant influence on American architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century.