Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park owe their existence to an array of springs that still supply naturally heated water for thermal bathers. The Fordyce Bathhouse, located on famous Bathhouse Row, serves as the park’s visitor center.
Hot Springs is the smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System. It dates back to 1832 when Congress established, 40 years ahead of Yellowstone, the first federally protected area in the nation's history. Hot Springs Reservation, which was renamed Hot Springs National Park in 1921, was created to protect the 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain.
The city, which is the boyhood home of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is located in Garland County. Along with the national park it is home base to live Thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park, Magic Springs/Crystal Falls theme and water parks, the 210-acre Garvan Woodland Gardens, The Gangster Museum of America, and a renowned arts community.
The city is also known for many annual events including the Hot Springs Music Festival Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival, Hot Springs Jazz Festival, Hot Springs Blues Festival, the downtown Bathtub Races and the World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade.
The city is rich in history. In 1818, Quapaw Indians ceded the land to the U.S. during a treaty signing in St. Louis, Missouri. On April 20, 1832, four years before Arkansas became a state, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill making the city the first federally protected area in the nation.
In 1862, Hot Springs was the state capital when Governor Henry Massie Rector moved his staff and state records there to protect them from the Union troops marching on Little Rock during the Civil War. After the Civil War ended, the city underwent a construction boom of bathhouses and hotels. Garland County was created in 1873 from parts of Hot Spring, Montgomery, and Saline counties. In 1875, a businessman from Ohio named Samuel Fordyce built the Arlington Hotel, the first luxury hotel in the city.
In 1882, the county converted a house downtown into the first courthouse. It was destroyed by fire a few years later, was rebuilt downtown and burned again in 1905. Later that year, the location for the present day courthouse was selected. In 1913, it, along with sixty blocks of the city, was severely damaged by fire. Its frame remained and it was restored. In 1979, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Oaklawn Park opened in 1905. By 1921 the city had developed into a popular resort destination featuring gambling, a national park, thermal water spas and horse racing.
Bathhouse Row, as it exists today, is a collection of eight architecturally significant bathhouses, most of which were built between 1912 and 1923. Two of the structures, the Buckstaff and the Quapaw, currently operate as bathhouses.
Illegal casino gambling thrived in the city during the 40s, 50s and 60s, until Governor Rockefeller closed the casinos in 1967. The Gangster Museum of America focuses on the 1920s-40s era of the town, when gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano vacationed there.
Summit Arena is connected to the Hot Springs Convention Center and hosts concerts, sports, and shows. Outdoor activities in the area include mountain biking, hiking, golf, horseback riding, and fishing, digging for quartz crystals, and water sports that center around lakes Hamilton, Ouachita, Catherine, Ouachita, and DeGray. More outdoor options can also be found at the Ouachita National Forest.