The Bath Houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas

As we previously posted, the bath houses in Hot Springs are worthy of their own story.

The first bathhouse was built in 1830 by Asa Thompson.  These bathhouses was no more than tents and primitive log structures, with a wood tub near a sweat bath.  After the original bathhouses were destroyed by fire in the 1800’s, the Secretary of the Interior had to approve all future developments – and they had to be fireproof, if possible.  The bath houses evolved from early tents and wood structures to the exotic neo-classic and renaissance revival style buildings. These are very beautiful and worthy of an in-person visit.

















In 1832, the Federal Government created the Hot Springs National Park. The government procured 47 parcels of land to preserve the natural hot springs. These parcels included the bath houses.

The bath houses were part of the early medical belief that bathing in the natural hot springs could cure a variety of medical problems. As a result of this early philosophy many unusual medical devices were developed and used in the Hot Spring area. Many of these devices are on display at the museums in Hot Springs. One can learn many of the quackery that was employed during the 1800’s.  We have chosen not to elaborate on some of the devices and procedures they used, because they are unusual, and we endeavor to keep this a family-oriented blog.  By all means, visit the bath houses, but you may want to prepare your smaller children to the fact that we don’t use these devices and procedures on people anymore.








As the buildings evolved, so did the equipment used in the buildings. Early bath treatments included hydrotherapy rooms. These treatments required a doctor prescription for treatments. The treatments included (among others) the use of sunray cabinets, sitz baths, and electric baths. It should be noted that no deaths were documented from the electric baths. They did abandon this practice.

Another device that was popular was the steam bath. The concept was this would be used to stimulate skin secretions. You would be locked into a cabinet for about 30 minutes. The steam would raise the temperature to between 115 and 140 degrees.









Another disease that was believed to be treatable from the water of the springs was syphilis. The 1892, and Arkansas medical article by M.A. Thompson stated that mercury added to the therapeutic water of the springs could cure the problem. This myth was not truly displaced until WWII and penicillin provided the real cure.

The therapeutic baths were segregated experiences. Woman and men are kept separate.  Back in the day, it was expected that you spent the entire day tending to your “ailments” and “wellbeing”.

















There were additional rooms, where men and women could lounge for the day, do hair and makeup, etc.









Today, you can still take advantage of the “bath”.  Two of the buildings on bath row are still operating.  To have a bath, it is recommended that have checked with your doctor, as the extreme heat of the bath does not always mix with various medications.  Here’s information on one of them.

The Buckstaff is a traditional bath house and has been operating since 1911. When you enter the house, men will go to their dressing area and the women to theirs. You will disrobe and put on a wonderful white bath roe. When you are ready, you will be escorted by the bath attendant to your private bath area. The tub will have been filled with the mineral water from the springs.  The 147 degree water will have ben cooled to 102 degrees. You will enter the tub. The attendant will then bath you. After you have finished, you will be moved to the sitz bath. Again bathed. Between these experiences you will be wrapped and allowed to cool. From sitz bath, you will be taken to the vapor chamber/sauna to cleanse your skin. From there you will be taken to the needle shower to cool, The bath will be completed with a massage.

This bath house offers other spa services. But you will be spending the better part of the day completing the bath. There are many safety warnings suggesting you talk with you doctor before going through the extreme heat of the baths. It is an adult experience. The baths are private and not coed.

Happy Adventure Hunting!


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