About an hour and a half east of Mena is the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
This area of the Ouachita Mountains is known for its thermal springs. About a million gallons of 143-degree water flow from the springs each day. The rate of flow is not affected by fluctuations in the rainfall in the area. Studies have determined through carbon dating that the water that reaches the surface fell as rainfall in an as-yet undetermined watershed 4,000 years earlier. The water percolates very slowly down through the earth’s surface until it reaches superheated areas deep in the crust and then rushes rapidly to the surface to emerge from the 47 hot springs in the area.
The town of Hot Springs wasn't settled until 1807 even though Native Americans had been enjoying the healing properties of the springs for years. In 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation was created by the US Congress, granting federal protection of the thermal waters. The Reservation was renamed Hot Springs National Park in 1921. It is America's oldest Federally protected area.
Bath House Row
The Civil War left the town of Hot Springs nearly destroyed but with the rebuilding came growth. Bath houses (or spas), utilizing the thermal waters, were built along Central Avenue. This section of street would later be known as Bath House Row. Many of these Bath Houses were lavish with brocade, stained glass, and rooftop conservatories.
People would ride a train into Hot Springs to stay at one of the luxury hotels and soak in the healing waters. And because of these therapeutic properties, the early 1900's saw several Major League Baseball teams make their training camps in Hot Springs.
The years following the Civil War brought many unsavory characters to Hot Springs. And gambling became firmly established. Political graft was rife. Hot Springs became a gambling mecca and many a gangster could be seen on the streets of Hot Springs. Al Capone's favorite spot was the Arlington Hotel.
Legal gambling came to a halt in 1948 but illegal casinos continued to operate until 1967 when a company of Arkansas State Troopers were sent to the town to close all casinos and destroy all gambling equipment.
Oaklawn Park, a thoroughbred horse racing track south of downtown, is the only remaining gambling establishment.
Today, Hot Springs is still a mecca for those seeking the area's natural Beauty as well as the healing waters.