Now the 13th most visited National Park, Hot Springs, in 1920, was a mecca for those seeking and believing in the healthful benefits of its waters, as well as for others living within reach of the park.
In his 1920 report, Stephen Mather refers to Hot Springs “as the great national spa.” A postcard from 1875 calls “Hot Springs National Park, Ark. The World’s Sanitarium.”
The Superintendent of Hot Springs writes, “A large percentage of these visitors were persons of high standing in the business and financial world; many influential people in the affairs of the country. Hot Springs is becoming better known each year to the world for the benefits derived from bathing in its famed waters.”
Mather adds in his report, “The most notable event of the year was the beginning of construction of the new Government bathhouse…” In 1920, the existing Government Free Bathhouse gave a total of 100,669 baths to White Males (48,968), White Females (6,110), Colored Males (28,733) and Colored Females (16,858).
In a forthright article, the National Park Service discusses African Americans and the Hot Springs baths stating “In 1921 a new government free bathhouse opened its doors to the public. It, too, was segregated by sex and race with separate facilities for black women, white women, black men, and white men.” It also reveals that after the burning of the Crystal Bathhouse in 1913 ”…until the Phytian Bathhouse opened, “blacks wanting baths had to claim to be indigent and bathe at the Government Free Bathhouse.”
Of the 19 pay bathhouses operating in 1920, only one exists today offering “a traditional bathing experience.” One is now a brewery utilizing the thermal water to make its beer!
One interesting sidenote is that the Superintendent writes, “During the past year drumming has been kept down to the extent that hardly a complaint is received.”
Apparently, at that time, doctors (and would-be doctors) looking for business at Hot Springs would hire cabbies and others to “drum up” business for their practice.