FROM a hillside on the edge of the Ozark Mountains in central Arkansas issue springs of hot water which are effective in the alleviation of rheumatic and kindred ills. Although chemical analysis fails to explain the reason, the practice of many years has abundantly proved their worth. Before the coming of the white man they were known to the Indians, who are said to have proclaimed them neutral territory in time of war. Perhaps it was rumor of their fame upon which Ponce de Leon founded his dream of a Fountain of Youth.
In the early years of the last century hundreds of settlers toiled many miles over forest trails to camp beside them and bathe daily in their waters. The bent and suffering were carried there on stretchers. So many and so striking were the cures that the fame of these springs spread throughout the young nation, and in 1832, to prevent their falling into hands out-stretched to seize and exploit them for private gain, Congress created them a national reservation. The Hot Springs Reservation was our first national park.
Previous to this a couple of log houses built by visitors served for shelter for the pilgrims at the shrine of health. Soon after, other buildings quite as primitive were erected. A road was constructed through the forests from the settled portions of the State, and many drove laboriously in with tents, and camping outfits. I have seen a copy of a photograph which was taken when photographs were new, showing several men and women in the odd conventional costume of that period sitting solemnly upon the banks of a steaming spring, their clothes drawn up, their bare legs calf deep in the hot water.
Once started, Hot Springs grew rapidly. Unfortunately, this first act of national conservation failed to foresee the great future of these springs, and the reservation line was drawn so that it barely enclosed the brook of steaming vapors which was their outlet. To-day, when the nation contemplates spending mil-lions to beautify the national spa, it finds the city built solidly opposite.
Railroads soon pushed their way through the Ozark foot-hills and landed thousands yearly beside the healing waters. Hotels became larger and more numerous. The government built a public bath-house into which the waters were piped for the free treatment of the people. Concessioners built more elaborate structures within the reservation to accommodate those who preferred to pay for pleasanter surroundings or for private treatment. The village became a town and the town a city. Boarding-houses sprang up everywhere with accommodations to suit the needs of purses of all lengths. Finally, large and costly hotels were built for the prosperous and fashionable who began to find rare enjoyment in the beautiful Ozark country while they drank their hot water and took their invigorating baths. Hot Springs became a national resort.
It will be seen that, in its way, Hot Springs has reflected the social development of the country. It has passed through the various stages that marked the national growth in taste and morals. During the period when gambling was a national vice it was noted for its high play, and then gamblers of all social grades looked forward to their season in the South. During the period of national dissipation, when polite drunkenness was a badge of class and New Year’s day an orgy, it became the periodic resort of inebriates, just as later, with the elevation of the national moral sense, it became instead the most conservative of resorts, the periodic refuge of thousands of work-worn business and professional men seeking the astonishing recuperative power of its water.
True again to the spirit of the times, Hot Springs reflects to the full the spirit of to-day. It is a Southern mountain resort of quiet charm and wonderful natural beauty set on the edge of a broad region of hills, ravines, and sweet-smelling pines, a paradise for the walker, the hiker, and the horseback rider. Down on the street a long row of handsome modern bath-houses, equipped with all the scientific luxuries, and more besides, of the most elaborate European spa, concentrates the business of bath and cure. Back of this rise directly the beautiful Ozark hills. One may have exactly what he wishes at Hot Springs. He may live with the sick if that is his bent, or he may spend weeks of rich enjoyment of the South in holiday mood, and have his baths besides, without a suggestion of the sanitarium or even of the spa.
Meantime the mystery of the water’s potency seems to have been solved. It is not chemical in solution which clears the system of its ills and restores the jaded tissues to buoyancy, but the newly discovered principle of radioactivity. Somewhere deep in Nature’s laboratory these waters become charged with an uplifting power which is imparted to those who bathe according to the rules which many years of experience have prescribed. Many physicians refuse to verify the waters’ virtues; some openly scoff. But the fact stands that every year hundreds who come helpless cripples walk jauntily to the station on their departure, and many thousands of sufferers from rheumatic ills and the wear and tear of strenuous living return to their homes restored. I myself can testify to the surprising recuperative effect of only half a dozen daily baths, and I know business men who habitually go there whenever the stress of overwork demands measures of quick relief.
It is not surprising that more than a hundred thousand persons visit Hot Springs every year. The recognized season begins after the winter holidays; then it is that gayety and pleasuring, riding, driving, motoring, golfing, and the social life of the fashionable hotels reach their height. But, for sheer enjoyment of the quieter kind, the spring, early summer, and the autumn are unsurpassed; south though it lies, Hot Springs is delightful even in midsummer.
Two railroads land the visitor almost at the en-trance of the reservation. A fine road brings the motorist sixty miles from the lively city of Little Rock. The elaborate bath-houses line the reservation side of the principal street, opposite the brick city. But back of them rises abruptly the beautiful forested mountain from whose side gush the healing waters, and back of this roll the beautiful pine-grown Ozarks. The division is sharply drawn. He who chooses may forget the city except at the hour of his daily bath.
The plans for realizing in stone and landscape gardening the ideal of the great American spa, which this spot is in fact, contemplate the work of years.