by Jim Weaver
People have been coming to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for thousands of years. First it was the Native Americans from various neighboring tribes who had discovered the thermal springs, and the health benefits they provided. Then came the explorers and pioneers who stopped here on their way to the western frontier. Finally, the tourist began arriving after the Civil War, some 150 years ago, and they’ve been coming ever since. Recognizing the importance of the springs, in 1832 the federal government claimed a portion of land as a reserve to protect it from private development. In 1921 it became a National Park. See www.nps.gov/hosp.
The thermal springs are the draw, of course. They have been bubbling pure water from subterranean chambers thousands of feet below the surface for many thousands of years at a rate of 700,000 gallons a day and a consistent temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit (its cooled to 100 or so for bathing). Today’s water is estimated to be about 4000 years old. Simply amazing.
People soon learned that it was good to drink and for bathing. In the early 20th century a number of posh bathhouses were built to accommodated the thousands of visitors. Today they are owned by the National Park Service and two are fully renovated and operating as bathhouses. It was wonderful to soak for an hour in the warm and comforting waters. Its easy to understand their great attraction.
While in the city I stayed at the newly renovated Arlington Hotel See www.arlingtonhotel.com. Built in 1924, after its predecessor was destroyed by fire, it is a luxury hotel in the grand tradition. My room, a junior suite on the 11th floor, was as large as my entire apartment at home. Meals and service were excellent and an added plus was social dancing in the spacious grand lobby to a five piece band on Friday and Saturday nights.
During Prohibition years, Hot Springs was a popular vacation spot for Chicago bootleggers. Al Capone was a regular guest at the Arlington and always stayed in a fourth floor suite where he could observe activities at a gambling club across the street. Today, the Al Capone Suite is preserved as it was when he stayed here more than 80 years ago and is open for hotel guests to visit. There’s a Gangster Museum in town the recalls the good old days.
If you prefer to stay at a lake shore rather than in the city, you can’t do better that Lookout Point Inn, a lovely twelve unit bed and breakfast with beautiful gardens, recreational activities, exceptional food and gracious service. See www.lookoutpointinn.com.
Hot Springs has much to offer beyond its thermal water. Just across the street from the bathhouses on Central Avenue is the Vienna Theater. A newly restored store front building, its now a 75 seat theater that features an enjoyable one man show of popular music of the 1950s and Broadway performed by a talented young baritone Ken Goodman. Good humor, a pleasing manner and stage presence, plus great music makes this an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. See TheVienna.
The semiprivate Hot Springs Country Club, was founded in 1898 with two challenging 18 hole courses. In recent years, both have been redesigned and fully restored by Hall of Fame golfer Ben Crenshaw and offer an outstanding experience for golfers of all skill levels. Some local hotels offer golfing packages. The Belvedere Golf Club, a fine public course located just north of the city on Route 7, is open daily year round.
Oaklawn is a thoroughbred race track established in Hot Springs in 1904. It offers a full racing card on a one mile dirt track from mid-January to mid-April, The final race of the season is the acclaimed Arkansas Derby for three year olds. The winner generally goes on to compete in the Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown races. Oaklawn also features off track wagering and a large casino with electronic slots and table games.
The Mid-America Science Museum at Hot Springs offers visitors a large number of interesting activities and exhibits, both indoors and outdoors in the physical and natural sciences. My favorite was the Tesla Theater devoted to the scientific work of Nikola Tesla a Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer. He was an important contributor to the birth of commercial electricity, and is best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current (AC) electric power systems, and the AC motor. The science museum theater offers outstanding educational programs with audience participation. See www. midamericamuseum.org
Not to be missed by visitors to Hot Springs is Garvan Woodland Gardens. Originally a private 210-acre wooded peninsula on Lake Hamilton belonging to the late Verna Cook Garvan, its now one of the nation’s premiere woodlands gardens administered by the University of Arkansas School of Architecture..Open year round (except January) it is a favorite wedding location with its strikingly beautiful chapel of glass and wooden beam construction. A spectacular annual Christmas lights show attracts large crowds. Learn more at www.garvangardens.com.
Begin planning your trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, at www.hotsprings.org.