ARKANSAS – Home of the Razorback Hogs and the Ouachita Mountains.
Lucky for you, you have me to tell you right off the bat that Ouachita is pronounced “oWatchata” not “ou-ah-chi-ta” as you forgivably may have thought. That should help to smooth out your first few interactions with the locals when you visit.
Hot Springs is known as the “First Resort Town in America!
Essentially the surrounding mountains (not super big, ~600 feet from base to summit) seep hot water (~140 ºF) into steaming streams and pools. After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans began to travel to the springs for the alleged healing and soothing qualities of the water.
Back pain? ⇒ Soak it.
Stinky Feet? ⇒ Soak ’em.
Syphilis? ⇒ Soak it.
Eventually, more and more elaborate bath houses were built to entice the people visiting, who, by this time, were coming from all over the country and included many celebrities, politicians, and athletes. The area was designated a National Park in 1921 because Uncle Sam wanted to make sure the springs were protected from contamination and over-utilization.
There are details, I promise, but the short story is that the town became a total party vacation spot.
Imagine it: You could lounge around, take a bath, get steamed, take a hike, ride a a horse, spend the afternoon boating at Lake Hamilton.. The hotels and bathhouses were in an arms race to provide the most leisurely decadent experience possible in imitation of european establishments. This attracted the attention of many entrepreneurs with various levels of moral standing.
Enter Al Capone. Pretty much every old bar and tourist gift shop has some piece of memorabilia relating to the notorious gangster. I went to the Ohio Club the first night I spent in town, and the stories of the fast and loud times of the 1920’s jumped off the walls. The existing Ohio Club (which is the oldest operating bar in Arkansas) is about 1/4th the size that it was at its peak grandure. During prohibition the speakeasy in the Ohio Club was THE place to unwind after a stressless day of hot springs therapy.
Being in places like that get my imagination all spooled up.”
Here’s a sampling of the bathhouses:
Also, if you’re in town looking for a place to stay on a budget, check out the Alpine Inn. The Scottish innkeepers Eric and Linda are the sweetest. $68 out the door!