Hot Springs is a history lover’s dream. Over the years, visitors to this city of 35,000 in central Arkansas have ranged from baseball stars to notorious gangsters, all drawn by one thing: the naturally occurring warm mineral water that gives the area its name.
Here are five free things to see and do while visiting Hot Springs.
The Fordyce operated as a bathhouse from 1915 to 1962, then later reopened as the Hot Springs National Park visitors center. It’s the largest bathhouse building on Bathhouse Row and offers exhibits about the springs’ history, going back to Native Americans who were the first to use the water for healing.
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Other exhibits explore what relaxation meant to visitors in the early to mid-20th century and how segregation laws affected African-Americans using the bathhouses. Watch for the room where women got their blisters removed.
For details, go to nps.gov/hosp/historyculture/fordyce-bathhouse.htm.
There are 47 springs, but only 27 of them are used and on display. The rest are capped to keep the water from becoming contaminated. Two of the most readily accessible springs are on Central Avenue, just outside of the Fordyce. At an average temperature of about 143 degrees Fahrenheit, the water will feel surprisingly warm on your fingertips.
Mountain Valley Spring Co. Museum
Pharmacist Pete E. Greene and his brother John Greene started selling Mountain Valley Spring water in 1871. After changing hands several times over the years, Mountain Valley returned to Hot Springs in 1987 and moved into a two-story classical revival style building on Central Avenue.
Constructed in 1910, the building now houses a visitors center where you can see how bottle design changed over the years and sample the water, MountainValleySpring.com.
The baseball trail
Did you know some of Major League Baseball’s most famous players spent time in Hot Springs? The area was one of the first locations used for spring training and saw the likes of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Jackie Robinson. Players and teams were attracted to the hot mineral baths, raucous nightclubs and beautiful scenery.
The Historic Baseball Trail guides visitors to spots marking important moments in the city’s ties to the sport. Learn about where the players gambled in their off-hours or see the field where 18-year-old Hank Aaron played in the Negro League World Series in 1952.
A documentary film about spring training in Hot Springs is also in the works. Details at HotSpringsBaseballTrail.com.
In addition to Bathhouse Row, which is a National Historic Landmark District, Hot Springs is home to a number of other historic properties.
The Arlington Hotel opened in 1875 as the area’s first luxury hotel. It was razed about two decades later to make room for a new property. The third and current Arlington Hotel opened in 1924 and has seen guests including Joe DiMaggio, Yoko Ono and gangster Al Capone, who favored Room 442; ArlingtonHotel.com.
Just down the street from the Arlington is the Ohio Club, said to be Arkansas’ oldest bar. Open since 1905, it has had many visitors, including Capone and other gangsters; TheOhioClub.com.