History of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs, the seat of Garland County, is located in the picturesque Ouachita Mountains, largely surrounded by Hot Springs National Park. It gets its name from the natural spring water that flows out of the ground at 147 degrees F.

Those famous waters pervade the history of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Before the white man set foot in the valley, the hot springs were known as a place of peace, and various tribes would gather to enjoy the mysterious waters.

In 1541, the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto became the first European explorer to visit the springs. Hernando and his troops stayed for several weeks, enjoying the special waters. French trappers, traders and hunters became familiar with the region in the late 17th century. The United States acquired the area in 1803 when it was purchased in the Louisiana Territory from France.

The hot springs were the main attraction for Jean Prudhomme, the first settler in Hot Springs, as well as others, including Ludovicus Belding, who by 1832 was renting rooms to those who were attracted to the place by its "healing waters." The hot springs were designated in 1832 as the first national reservation, to prevent their commercial exploitation. Hot Springs National Park was established in 1921.

Hot Springs was incorporated as a town in 1876 and chartered as a city in 1879. It was devastated by fire in 1878. Major fires recurred in 1905, 1913, and 1923.

During the early 1900s, thousands of people flocked the area to experience the waters' curative powers. Elaborate bathhouses were built to house the large number of tourists visiting the place for springs and spa treatments. Historic Bathhouse Row is a group of eight architecturally significant bathhouses, of which most were constructed between 1912 and 1923.

The Mid-America Science Museum is a hands-on attraction for children as well as adults. Garvan Woodland Gardens is Arkansas' first botanical garden. Hot Springs Mountain Tower is an observation tower rising 216 feet to provide 360 degree views of the area.

Garland County Community College, established in 1973, merged with the Quapaw Technical Institute in 2003 to form National Park Community College.

The second oldest hospital in Arkansas, St. Joseph's Hospital opened in 1888. About 20 years later, Levi Hospital, also a non-profit, was established in Hot Springs.

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