Central Avenue: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is named after the naturally thermal spring waters found nearby. Flowing out of the ground at an average temperature of 143°F, the hot springs produce almost one million gallons of water each day.
A half-mile stretch running south from Fountain Street to Chapel Street.
Central Avenue has always served as the main thoroughfare of downtown Hot Springs. On one side of the street, historic Bathhouse Row boasts a handful of luxurious, preserved Spanish Revival, Victorian, and Greek Revival buildings. Lining the opposite side of the street is a collection of artisanal shops, art galleries, restaurants, and museums in Greek Revival, Italianate, and Colonial Revival structures.
Immediately surrounding the street is the national park land of the Ouachita Mountains, steeply sloping upwards on both sides, stretching out for miles. Viewed from above, the street nestles deep in the valley, twisting and winding between the hills.
On the north end, Alice Bush Memorial Fountain sits in the middle of the street and splits traffic into Whittington Avenue and Park Avenue. At the opposite end, Confederate Square acts as an entryway into the downtown. Lace bark elms shade most of the sidewalks, and city parks along the street offer resting spots for pedestrians.
Hot Springs draws approximately 6.7 million visitors each year, generating $523 million in tourism revenue. It is the top destination in Arkansas.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Native American tribes called this location "Valley of the Vapors" and believed the naturally thermal spring waters had healing powers
- The land came into American ownership as part of the Louisiana Purchase (1803)
- Congress designated the area as Hot Springs National Reservation, making it the oldest park managed by the National Park System in the country (1832)
- The Arlington Hotel with two wings and a 190-foot facade was completed (1875); largest hotel in the state at that time
- Between 1892 and 1923, eight bathhouses built on what is known as Bathhouse Row; as many as 15 bath houses were in operation during Central Avenue's prime in the 1940s
- Central Avenue Historic District added to National Register of Historic Places (1985); Bathhouse Row designated a National Historic Landmark (1987)
Planning and Preservation Accomplishments
- Urban renewal was a priority in the 1970s, Harland Bartholomew and Associates published the Comprehensive Plan and the city's first Capital Improvements Plan and Zoning Report (1970)
- General Management Plan created by the National Park Service to protect historic sites along Central Avenue (1977)
- A Land Protection Plan was established to better understand compatibility between parkland and non-federally owned tracts in downtown (1985)
- Comprehensive Plan adopted (1997–2020)
- Update to the plan, "Hot Springs 2030," adopted (2010)
- LED Retrofit Initiative led by the city, replacing the light sources in all of the decorative lighting fixtures downtown; high-efficiency, LED bulbs used as part of the Entergy's CitySmart program (2012)
- Over $40,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds allocated to upgrade and restore existing building infrastructure on Central Avenue (2013)
Features and Events
- Alice Bush Memorial Fountain and Confederate Square mark the beginning and end of Central Avenue; additional public spaces include Hill Wheatley Plaza, Kenneth Adair Park, other city parks
- Bathhouse Row has eight bathhouses atop the hot springs: Buckstaff, Fordyce, Hale, Lamar, Maurice, Ozark, Quapaw, and Superior; three are still functional today
- Free public filling stations continuously pump water from the natural springs
- The Gangster Museum of America offers a unique look at the spa city's mobster era
- Annual "Running of the Tubs" celebration honors the Spa City's long-time motto "We Bathe the World"
- Other annual events include: Chili Cookoff and Light-Up Downtown, Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs Harley Davidson Festival, Miss Arkansas Pageant, and Corvette Festival