My best friend and I are spending a couple of days in Hot Springs having a girls weekend.* I’m afraid I let her do most of the leg work on where we were going and what we were planning on seeing, so I had almost no expectations about what this trip was going to be like. We drove up along Highway 71, a winding two lane highway through the Ouachita National Forest. Despite getting stuck behind an army convoy, the trees and mountains proved peaceful and soothing.
Hot Springs itself suffers from the normal Arkansas problem–nice things next to not so nice things. 270 into Hot Springs is a less than ideal introduction to the city. Once we go onto Bathhouse Row, however, the city transformed into an almost Gatsby-esque space. The bath houses are stately, surrounded by magnolia trees. They’re almost preserved in time with Adirondack and wicker chairs, slow ceiling fans. This impressions was strengthened when we went to the Fordyce Bathhouse.
Fordyce Bathhouse, exterior
Built by Samuel Fordyce, the bathhouse is an elegant space filled with light, porcelain, and mahogany. It’s now the welcome center and museum, and it’s decently curated. The national parks tour guide funnily emphasized the “health” aspects of the expensive three week treatments offered in the early 1900s. I’d feel better too if I spent three weeks in thermal baths and having Swedish massages. Admittedly, some of the people who came were in need of what the bathhouse had to offer, but the Fordyce is obviously built for the Gatsby’s of the world, not the disabled or ill.
The original bathhouse was divided by gender, and the only still operational original bathhouse on the row, the Bickerstaff, is still done so. In classic Gatsby fashion, the men got the better rooms, complete with statues and stained glass ceilings.
Ceiling of the Men’s Bathing Room
I think my favorite parts were the gym (I remember some of that equipment from elementary school) and the large tub that they used for hydrotherapy. I also liked the tile in the music room, and then Beth and I drove up the mountain in the National Park. We could have walked, but I’m glad we didn’t. Neither of us were wearing appropriate footwear, and now she’s got blisters from the walking around town we did.
Our Nice Tour Guide in front of the torturous wall hold thing I dreaded in elementary school
Me in the Gym
Hydrotherapy tub, especially useful for patients suffering from polio.
Music room floor
Mountain view from the National Park
Me feeling all cool at the National Park
It was the music room in the Fordyce and the mountain view from the national park, however, when I fully felt like I could actually see Hot Springs as a place catering to the elite in the early twentieth-century. I could see women in white lawn dresses walking down the avenue with parasols, and men in high collars and slicked back hair sauntering down to the speakeasies run by the mob.
*Note: I’m using it as a sort of testing ground for the on the road blogging and for the on the road picture taking. Specifically, I’m working on taking pictures of people and things not just things. I have a bad habit of getting distracted by flora and fauna. Normally I’d be okay with just continuing to take pictures of flora and fauna, but my friend Mouse gave me advice specifically on how to do this whole documenting a trip through words and images thing. His advice primarily consisted of emphasizing taking pictures of people, both those I know and those I don’t. So, I’ve tried to do that here.