Outdoor Living in Hot Springs: The American Spa

This post will mean a lot more if you first read my previous post about the famous bath houses in Hot Springs National Park.  (Click HERE to read my previous post.) We visited this little town in the low mountains of central Arkansas recently, and toured one of the eight, once-luxurious bath houses along Bathhouse Row, which has been converted into a museum, and is the visitor’s center for the national park here. It’s called Fordyce Bathhouse, and this is one of the many stained glass windows. This window is directly above the men’s bath hall.



This is the front of the Fordyce Bathhouse, which was built in 1915 by Sam Fordyce, an entrepreneur who believed the thermal waters had cured his ailments inflicted during the Civil War. (While visiting these hot-water spas, it struck me how so many people lived in pain then, and how these spas offered some of the only relief because modern medicine wasn’t around yet.) The ornate bath house, which is filled with marble, tile, statues and inner courtyards, was built directly on top of one of the 47 hot springs in the park, and is pumped through out the three-story building. It closed in the 1960s, but was refurbished and reopened inn 1989.


People soaked in mud baths in the tub on the left, and took steam baths in box on the right. The place was pretty grubby, but you could tell that back then the proprietors tried to make visitors feel like it was a luxurious place to spend time, even though most wanted pain relief. Today, thanks to modern medicine, it’s called “pampering.”



This is one of the hydro-therapy showers. You were basically blasted with hot water from numerous shower heads. When it comes to water treatments, not that much has changed, really.


 This was the music room on the third floor. Besides all the water therapy and bath soaking rooms, the place had a gymnasium, a bowling lane, sun bathing courtyards, a roof deck, lockers and dressing rooms.

Most of the bath halls had stalls with over-sized, marble bath tubs, and steam rooms. But this was the premo-treatment room with this tiled, hydro-therapy pool, called the Hubbard Currence tub. That board is hung from a cable that moved patients from room to room, and then dunked them into this pool. Today, this would be called a spa or hot tub.


 In museum exhibits throughout the bath house, the park did a great job of sharing photos and devices from the time that helped give visitors a feel of what the experience was like back then. During its peak, the Hot Springs area was known as “The American Spa,” because you could hike the local trails and experience the thermal therapies at the various bathhouses.

At times, it did look more like a torture chamber. But with the crazy mix of neo-Renaissance, Spanish and Italian architecture and embellishments, you knew this was considered a truly decadent place.

You could even take an elevator to the basement, and check out the actual spring. If you look closely, you can make out all the natural crystal formations all around it.

I hope you got a sense of this place.  It blew our minds. We felt really fortunate that it has been so well-preserved so anyone can come here and get a better understanding of what lengths people had to go through just to feel better.  Today we pop a couple ibuprofen and are back in action within an hour. But even today, sometimes nothing beats a hot bath!

One thought on “Outdoor Living in Hot Springs: The American Spa

  1. Isn’t that just THE coolest place? I love HS, AK. How about that state park right in the middle of town? I could use some hot tub time right now. Sigh.

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