Sunday, January 11, 2015

Traveling with History: Daytrip to Hot Springs

By Jeff Burns

            Hot Springs Arkansas is located deep within the Ouachita Mountains  and is set among several natural hot springs for which the city is named. The center of Hot Springs is the oldest federal reserve in the United States, preserved as Hot Springs National Park. The hot spring water has been popularly believed for centuries to possess medicinal properties, and was a subject of legend among local Native American tribes. Following federal protection in 1832, the city developed into a successful spa town. Incorporated in January 10, 1851, the city has been home over the years to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, and 42nd President Bill Clinton and bills itself as “America’s first resort town.”
            Of course, the main attractions are the hot springs.  If you have just a day or so, plan to spend it walking downtown along historic Central Avenue, the core of the National Park area.  There’s lots of shopping but you want to see and experience the baths.  You might start off at the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and get an overview of the resort’s history and bathhouse culture.

            Next, proceed to the Buckstaff Baths, opened in 1912, and the only traditional bathhouse still in operation for your own experience.  There, splurge for the deluxe treatment and spend the next hour and a half or so in pure luxury.  Men and women are catered to on separate floors.  Your very own bath attendant will start you in a large tub filled with spring water at between 105 and 110 degrees (F).  Afterwards, you’re steamed, showered, and swaddled in hot towels.  Finish off with a massage.  It is a glorious experience!
            After your bath, take a few minutes to explore the underworld of Hot Springs heyday at the Gangster Museum of America across the street or the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum. The Mountain Valley Spring Company maintains a beautiful visitor center and museum on Central Avenue as well, telling its own story dating from 1871. 

            Have more time?  There’s plenty more to do, year –round.  Check out visitor information for Hot Springs.

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