More than Meets the Eye: The Archeology of Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Author(s): William J. Hunt, Jr.

Year: 2008


For many, the oldest “park” managed by the federal government is not Yellowstone National Park (set aside in 1872) but Hot Springs National Park (HOSP) in Arkansas. Congress set aside the hot springs and adjoining mountains here as a federal reservation in 1832 to protect the resource and preserve it for public use. For centuries before this, the hot springs may have used by Native Americans, their occupations having little impact on the resource. But with EuroAmerican use, this began to change. At first, the area around springs saw little change but after the Civil War, development began in earnest. The hot waters from the springs were harnessed and forced to flow to a series of ever larger and more extravagant bathhouses built on the east side of Hot Springs Creek. Native American use and over 210 years of EuroAmerican occupation has created the potential for the existence of significant prehistoric and historic archeological resources at HOSP. Until recently, archeological exploration of the park has been sporadic and this is especially true for Bathhouse Row.

This report provides an overview and analysis of the 2003 to 2004 archeological investigations in Bathhouse Row, the Grand Balustrade, and the Promenade. These structures and facilities are located in Garland County at the heart of the City of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hot Springs National Park is administered by the National Park Service. Bathhouse Row was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It is considered a threatened resource by the National Park Service. Initiation of stabilization and rehabilitation of six of the eight bathhouses on Bathhouse Row in 2003 set the stage for the Midwest Archeological Center (MWAC) to investigate areas of the park sealed off by decades of development.

Investigative goals were to: 1) create a historic, to-scale base map incorporating all known structures; 2) monitor ground disturbing construction actions inside and outside the six bathhouses (excluding the Fordyce and Buckstaff); 3) conduct test excavations as necessary to identify and evaluate buried cultural resources as they were encountered; 4) officially record discovered cultural resources as archeological sites with the Arkansas Archeological Survey. These goals were accomplished over six months of intermittent work. Subsequent to the recovery of 4621 artifacts from four locations and discovery of 19th century structural features in four of the bathhouses, five archeological sites were recorded with the Arkansas Archeological Survey. The sites’ conditions, disturbance and threats were evaluated. All were determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. A summary of findings is presented and is followed by recommendations to Park managers for future investigations focused on resource identification and actions designed to enhance archeological resource preservation, protection, and interpretation.

Cite this Record

More than Meets the Eye: The Archeology of Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. William J. Hunt, Jr.. Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report ,No. 102. Lincoln, Nebraska: Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service. 2008 ( tDAR id: 376113) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8BZ65RQ

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.106; min lat: 34.5 ; max long: -93.023; max lat: 34.538 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Repository(s): Midwest Archeological Center; Hot Springs National Park

Record Identifiers

MWAC Accession Number (s): 1086

HOSP Accession Number(s): 635; 384; 651

File Information

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