Hot Springs, AR Sunday November 10
Just another delightful day. Weather was in the 60s by the afternoon. The sun did not really appear until late in the day, several hours after predicted but still it was a great fall day. Two major activities took up our day; Hot Springs National Park and Garvan Gardens of the University of Arkansas.
Actually the first order of business was to officially check in since we arrived late last night. Lake Catherine State Park dates back to 1935. It offers campgrounds and 20 cabins. The lake came before the park, created when the Remmel Dam was constructed in 1924, the first dam in Arkansas used to generate hydro power. The lake is relatively small and like most dam created lakes in this area, rather serpentine. There is another dam created lake nearby (Lake Hamilton) and the two boost tourism in the area. We did stop by the second dam which created Lake Hamilton.
Hot Springs National Park was extremely interesting and enjoyable. The 10 AM ranger led tour was well done. Hot Springs National Park was the first tract of land officially set aside for preservation as a national park (details later). Bill Clinton spent much of his childhood here. The resort has been a draw since Native American days, thanks to the 47 thermal springs that give the city its name.
Hot Springs was used by Native Americans but “discovered” by explorers set out by President Jefferson after the land was purchased as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1832, part of the land was set aside by the U.S. government to preserve the springs. The country had learnt from bad experience at Saratoga Springs in New York where open access and no limits had led to pollution of the waters. The term in those days was a reservation. National Parks had not been created. In 1921 Hot Springs was declared the 18th national park.
Scientists have estimated that the waters percolating here are at least 3500 years old. Rain water seeped into the ground and worked its way down into the earth’s crust where it was heated by the hot rocks. Heated water moves back upward where it surfaces at openings throughout the area. Springs here are capped with locked covers to prevent direct contamination.
The National Park Service collects the thermal water and distributes it to several bath houses and hotels. There are also cooler springs. Water is made available free of charge at several locations in town where people bottle it and take it home.
Early on the medicinal value was understood. The waters are high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. The first three in particular are now understood to be critical parts of our diet. We take vitamins, they took the springs elixir. Unlike the Eureka Springs which were high in zinc, these waters healed ailments, not infections. The initial users just set up tents. Soon wood hotels were erected and when fires kept burning them down, stone and other non-wood construction materials were used.
The springs here were medicinal. Doctors prescribed a certain treatment protocol. Visitors not only drank the water, they underwent a series of set regimens including soaking, massage, rubs, exercises, etc. This area actually practiced better medicine than hospitals until the 1920s when penicillin and other drugs were discovered and widely used.
People came here to be treated for such ailments as syphilis, gastrointestinal problems, polio, etc. In the early years, mercury was used for several of the body rubs, including syphilis. It was one of the few treatment processes for that until penicillin. Unfortunately, the people applying mercury might get sick also.
The exercise regimen included walking and physical workouts in the gymnasium. In the 1850s, mechanical workout equipment was manufactured and looked like early models of the fitness machines you might see today. The Promenade was constructed, a paved walkway above bathhouse row, where people took their daily constitutional.
Much of the clientele here was high society. Fancy hotels and fancy bathhouses were constructed, frequently vying with each other to snare the top echelon. It was the place to see and be seen. Gangsters and Presidents came here. Some facilities were provided for the indigent. This is in Arkansas. Jim Crow laws were in existence and the free bathhouse was segregated. For some of the time until desegregation in 1965, there did exist a private bathhouse for blacks as the only option to the bathhouse for the indigent.
Services for men vastly outnumbered those for women and were fancier. But times change and as medicine improved, bathhouses slowly declined. New ways came into play; spas for women, fitness centers for both sexes, hydro therapy at the Y, etc. Hotels and bathhouses declined. Two bathhouses still operate today, one building is an art museum, and others are maintained but not used. Still, the day was interesting and illuminating as we explored more of early Americana.
The latter part of the afternoon was spent at Garvan Woodland Gardens. Somewhat similar to the U of M Arboretum, it consists of 210 acres. We took a two-mile hike through and along most of its length, admiring the gardens and foliage. They even have a chapel for weddings; it looks very similar to Thorncrown Chapel back in Eureka Springs.
The Gardens will be opening their holiday light display (4,000,000 lights) on Nov. 23rd. Construction of the display is well underway and it appears to be well done. Unfortunately we will miss it.
Ed and Chris Nov. 10 10:45 pm