659 Ouachita Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71901
(501) 321-1700
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History

Hot Springs is a city with a rich history that dates back to 1807 and intertwines the lives of presidents of the United States, some of the greatest sports legends and the most notorious gangsters in America.

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, “the discoverer of the Mississippi River,” was the first European to visit the “Valley of the Vapors,” as the Native Americans called the area. De Soto and his conquistadors were reported to have spent several weeks here enjoying the warming waters. Prior to de Soto’s visit and many years afterwards, the springs were “neutral ground” where the Caddo and other tribes would gather in peace to enjoy nature’s bounty. The springs were a special area, also to the first white settlers as they began arriving in 1807. By 1832, Ludovicus Belding was renting rooms to visitors coming to enjoy the “healing waters.”

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson made Hot Springs the first Federal Reservation. It was the first piece of America protected for future generations. Hot Springs was, in essence, America’s fist national park. The thermal waters that give Hot Springs its name are some of nature’s most miraculous features. Located along the forested southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain, 47 “hot springs” gush forth nearly a million gallons of 143-degree water every day. Today, the naturally pure water is used for thermal bathing and massage, and is also consumed as drinking water from free public springs in the downtown area.

During the American “bathing experience” of the early 1900s, Hot Springs was a popular destination for the rich and famous, drawing the likes of Babe Ruth, Andrew Carnegie and F.W. Woolworth. Gangster Al Capone and members of his mob occupied the entire fourth floor of the popular Arlington Hotel when visiting the Spa City. A brass plaque marks Capone’s favorite suite – Room 442. The Fordyce, the most elaborate of the city’s bathhouses, now serves as the National Park Service Visitors Center. The Quapaw and Buckstaff are the only bathhouses still in operation.

Illegal casino gambling thrived in Hot Springs during the 40s, 50s and 60s, until Governor Rockefeller closed the casinos in 1967. Some popular nightspots continued for a few years afterward, featuring poplar entertainers but minus the gambling.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hot Springs was the off-season capital of Major League baseball teams. The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburg Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Sox all had spring training in Hot Springs.

Today’s Hot Springs is a vibrant, growing community. Oaklawn Park is turning out champions such as Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and Afleet Alex, winner of the Preakness and Belmont. There’s a glittering Summit Arena, which opened with a concert by Tony Bennett, who first sang “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” in the mid 1900s at the Vapors Club. Tourism is thriving and relocation, manufacturing, medical services and retail trade are important economic generators.

Interesting Dates
1887 – The first permanent military hospital in the country was built above Bathhouse Row.
1910 – The Princess Theatre was built, it was the first theatre in Hot Springs to show sound movies in the year of 1929.
1921 – Hot Springs National Park was established. It was first set aside as the nation’s first National Reservation in 1832, due to the need for federal protection of the hot springs.
1967 – Gambling was shut down. Casinos were shuttered; their equipment burned. Oaklawn Park is the only remaining gambling establishment.


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