Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Bathhouse Row (olden times)

Fordyce Bathhouse now National Park Headquarters

The traditional meaning of "Bathhouse" in Hot Springs is a large building used for the taking of the waters for both physical and emotional rejuvenation. The large, ornate bath houses on Center Street (Bathhouse Row) were divided by sex - but the sides were similar, where people could take treatments, have massages and have very large porcelain tubs for relaxation. The hot springs themselves had been used by the natives for centuries, and first reported use by a European was Hernando DeSoto while looking for a passage to the Pacific.

The Americans visited early and built the first "bathhouses". They were different from the bath house in frontier cities in that it wasn't a place to purchase a bath. It was were you "took the waters".

The ceiling of the Fordyce

Not at all racist statue of an native girl offering the waters to DeSoto in the men's changing room.

A couple of things. First, after many territorial issues, the US government took it over early in it's growth. The government governed disputes over the access to spring water, while leaving the bathhouses to change and upgrade themselves. Then when the bathhouses starting going bust in the 1970s and 1980s, the National Park Service either leased the to new purposes or preserved them. 

These pictures are all from the Fordyce Baths, now the National Park Headquarters and restored museum. So the pictures here are mainly from a reconstructed version of the 1930s bathhouse. 

The rooms used for the bathing experience.

Interestingly, the water comes from the springs at 147 degrees F. That is is 64C, so quite hot. So the waters were mixed with cool water to get to the correct temperatures. The Government decided in the early 1900s that the baths could not use city water to cut the heat. So the baths held spring water in tanks until it cooled and then mixed the cool and hot at each bath - each bath house was given the same source of hot and cold waters.

Two versions of the steam and hot air types of sweat cabinets (Lucy & Ethel got stuck in these in an episode).

The women's changing area, which looks lux, until you remember the look of the men's changing rooms.

Early machines to help rehabilitate patients with war wounds or serious accidents. These are not early torture devices, despite the look. 
Women's "relaxation rooms". The servants were nearly all Blacks (in men's and women's side). Segregation laws meant Blacks could not enter the baths.
As for people of color, they were not allowed in until the 1960s and civil rights movements. There was one bathhouse (now gone) that was built by and for the Black population.

My personal favorite, the hydrotherapy showers. These were equipped (really) with electricity for a hydro-electric therapy. Although shocking (get it?), no one was killed by this. 

The bathhouse community fell on bad times with the advent of cars and plumbing after WWII, that made these location based bathhouses redundant. They are now experience a mini renaissance. Two are open. One, Buckhouse Baths, has been open continually for over a century and the Quapaw Baths, reopened in the 1990s after a major facelift. 

All in all, Lynn and I had a great time. And yes we did take the waters (and a massage) at the Quapaw baths. Interior and exterior images below (not my pictures).

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