Hot Springs Fordyce Bathhouse

November 7, 2018

The Fordyce Bathhouse holds the National Park Visitor Center. You can tour the entire building from the hot spring bubbling up in the basement, up to the men’s and women’s spa rooms on the first floor, the music room and lounges and more treatment rooms on the second floor and up to the gymnasium on the third floor.

They have a couple of videos you can watch and they offer Ranger led tours of the first floor and possibly a walking tour around the promenade if they have staffing for it. We were lucky to get both tours.

There is so much to see and learn that we were stumped for a bit how to blog about it but we decided to skim the surface and tell you to go check it out for yourself.

Back in the day you couldn’t just show up. You needed a prescription which you could easily get from one of the numerous doctors that set up shop across the street.

The men’s “locker room” and lounge area is huge with marble walls, pillars and benches. There’s a flowing statue of Hernando de Soto (who was never in Hot Springs) in the center of the room and an amazing stained glass ceiling overhead (see above). The women didn’t fare quite as well. Their’s has white tile walls and no real lounge area. Both areas have private treatment rooms with large tubs and saunas and separate needle shower rooms. These were part of the standard treatments for all ailments.

Bath tub

Needle shower

Your prescription might include other treatments. At the back of the building were treatment rooms with steam cabinets, cold cabinets (you literally sat on a block of ice), the sun cabinet (numerous heat lamps to bake you at over 200 degrees), pressure hoses, and a nice big tub where you hooked up to wires then set in a tub of water while they turned the electricity on. We’re not sure what that was a treatment for. A really short description is that this is where you went to get baked, steamed, frozen, electrocuted and, if your doctor prescribed it, rubbed down with mercury – all to heal you and make you better.

Cold and Hot or “Sun” cabinets

Personally, I’ll stick with the hot mineral bath, hot packs and a massage. No torture devices or poison needed to heal me.

That was only the first floor. You have to go up to the second floor to see more electrical therapy equipment as well as stretching and manipulation machines. This was a popular “thing” in the early 20th century. A Swedish doctor by the name of Gustav Zander developed a series of therapeutic machines to assist in physical therapy. The machines used weights and levers to vary the resistance experienced by the patient. As the patient progressed, the resistance was increased.

The gym on the third floor looked awesomely tame by the time we got up there.

Above is the lounge/gathering room where you went for civilized socializing and relaxation after or between “treatments.” Check out that gorgeous tile floor. There is a piano just out of the shot. This was the top of the line treatment facility.

We thoroughly enjoyed wandering the building and learning about the bathhouse and its use. We didn’t take advantage of the active bathhouses but we probably should have. Everyone needs a little chill time and a nice hot bath and massage is what the doctor SHOULD have ordered.

H & J

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