Our original idea was to follow the Blues Trail along the Mississippi River with the highlight of this portion of our trip being the Delta Blues Museum at Clarksdale, MS. But due to the shortage of places to stay in that area, a change we had to make to our Lexington, KY visit, and the popularity of Memorial Day weekend, we changed our plans and rerouted our trip slightly. We'll make it to the Delta Blues Museum some other trip....
So instead we are now in Hot Springs to see the National Park. A little atypical of most parks, this one sits right in the middle of the city. In 1832 the federal government set aside land in this area to protect the hot springs that were becoming more and more popular with people wanting to soak in the water. The elaborate bath houses that are here now are third and fourth iterations of buildings that started as crude canvas and lumber structures.
Around 1877 the federal government took control of the many springs in the area and planned bathhouses ranging from simple to luxurious.
By 1920s the area was very popular with vacationers and health remedy seekers and the bathhouses had become big and elaborate.
Visits to the bathhouses were prescribed by physicans in the belief that the waters had healing powers. Fashionable people from all over the world came to Hot Springs.
The bathhouses offered gymnasiums and beauty shops and all sorts of treatments.
In the 30s The Grand Promenade was constructed along the ridge behind the bathhouses and patients were encouraged to incorporate walking its length as part of their therapy.
The bathhouses had varied equipment to compliment the healing qualities of the water: soaking tubs, showers, steam boxes, towel wraps and scrubs. I love the old postcards showing customers and bathhouse staff in the treatment rooms....
Then drugs like penicillin came into widespread use after World War II and the draw of the bathing industry for health reasons started to wan. The automobile changed how people vacationed (trending away from train travel to a single destination like Hot Springs) and by the 60s the bathhouses started closing down.
Now the bathhouses are being renovated and will be leased to businesses. You can still take in the waters at the Buckstaff which has been in business since 1912. And the Quapaw has reopened and gives more modern water treatments.
I was fascinated by story of the bathhouses and can't help but think that we could still benefit from a vacation that includes spa treatments and exercise!
Our visit to Hot Springs was not part of the original plan but changing the plan is half the fun!