Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A brief history of Hot Springs, Arkansas

In 1803, after facilitating the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson sat and thought to himself, "Now hold on a minute... just what have I gotten myself into?" The deal had been pulled off to thwart Napolean's North American intentions, not necessarily for what actually lay within the boundaries of the purchase. So Jefferson sent parties of explorers into the unkown.

A party not connected with the famed Lewis and Clark expedition came across the natural thermal springs of what would become western Arkansas, and word quickly spread of the place where water naturally bubbles to the surface at a constant 147 degrees. By 1830 the first inn had been built, and others soon followed.

After a brief history as a rough and tumble frontier town, the place took on a more genteel air around the turn of the century when the formerly wooden bathhouses were replaced by more ornate buildings to attract the upper crust of society. Soon they came in droves. The bathhouses all competed with each other, each trying to outdo the last, and the result is Bathhouse Row, a street of wonderful structures all opposite quaint stores and restaurants. People were sent here by their physicians to cure any number of ailments, including Tuberculosis, Rheumatism and Polio.

Eventually the medical community wised up and realized sitting around in steam rooms and thermal spas wouldn't do much for a bad case of the gout, and the bathhouses hit a decline.

Then Bill Clinton became president, and a small boom hit. Hot Springs decided to cash in as the president's boyhood home, and the quaint shops on Central Ave. soon had company.

A J. Jonah Jameson type executive somewhere in Maryland grabs the phone. "Yeah, it's Duncan here in corporate. Get me Hot Springs on the phone. Yeah that's right, Arkansas. I don't care if it's 3am, I want six Shell gas stations there by the end of this week."

The Shell gas stations were followed by a Harley Davidson bike dealer, an Outback Steakhouse, a lingerie (and more!) shop, dozens of motels with names like "el Ranchero Motel" and the "Settle Inn," an Old Navy, a Starbucks, a carwash that plays oldies music, a Sonic, and so on and so forth, resulting in a terrible commercial sprawl, the likes of which I haven't even seen in Jersey.

Never to be outdone, Walmart stepped in and built a supercenter the size of an international airport. Then they encourage their employees to dole out five plastic bags even if a customer only buys eight small items.

And this is where I saw the most beautiful sunset of the trip so far, here amidst the sprawl in Hot Springs, Arkansas.


Kirsten said...

I'm glad you're including some commentary on the state of urban design - or the lack thereof - in our cities and towns. This urban planner enjoys reading your perspective. Nature has its way of showing itself by setting its sun on even the most unhospitable suburban landscapes - the acres of tar that make up a Wal Mart parking lot.

Valerie O'Shea said...

is that the picture you took while we were on the phone? because you're's just as beautiful as you said it would be.

Scotticus said...

They can also make the best pictures - nature reclaiming cityscapes caught on black and white film - the photographer's name escapes me at the moment.

Yep, that was the same sunset I was telling you about and had to take a picture of while we were talking.

Dad said...

Well, this IS Wal-Mart's home state, so it stands to reason they would ruin small towns here before ruining other small towns around the country.

the chef said...


Before I forget again...

If you have the chance while you are out West, stop and eat at an "In and Out Burger".

Fast food done right! They put your burger on the grill when you order it and they have a machine that cuts fresh potatoes for the french fries right on the spot.

There's a whole sub-culture of people who adore this place and there's even lingo and secret menu items they don't advertize that only the most hardcore patrons know.

Anyways... In and Out Burgers don't come to the East coast so enjoy it while you can and let me know what you think of them.

I don't know why but I felt the need to capitalize "West" in the sentance at the top and "East" just above... like we are two seperate countries or something.


Be good Scott...

Marli said...

Good for people to know.