This will be my final article in the "Amateur Historian" monthly series that I have been writing over the last three years. After publishing 37 articles on various topics about Hot Springs history I have run out of ideas. Permit me to finish this series on a sentimental note.
As a child growing up in Hot Springs in the 1950s, my wise grandfather frequently told me that "Hot Springs is the best town in America to live in." Now that I have turned age 70 and have lived here almost all my life, I have come to appreciate just how correct my grandfather was.
Hot Springs offers a wonderful quality of life in so many ways. Unlike the larger metropolitan cities such as Dallas or Chicago, Hot Springs is a manageable size town. Most folks can commute to work in less than 20 minutes. People here are still friendly and are quick to offer a greeting of "good morning" to friends and strangers alike. When driving on rural roads, it is still customary for the passing drivers to wave to each other. Likewise, boaters on one of our three lovely lakes usually exchange a friendly wave as they cruise past one another.
Over the years, it has been suggested that a young person cannot make a good living in Hot Springs. Perhaps that was true 40 or 50 years ago, but in recent years hardworking people have built hundreds of successful and prosperous local businesses ranging from electrical and plumbing firms, to restaurants, to car dealerships.
Our community has made major economic progress in the last several decades. For example, Hot Springs Village and Diamondhead are both a huge economic benefit for our community. Both founded in 1969, the two retirement communities have grown to over 16,000 full-time residents in just 50 years.
More recently, our town has become a regional health care center with over 300 physicians and two regional medical centers providing high-quality health care to the several hundred thousand residents who live in west-central Arkansas. We have also become a major regional retail shopping center that includes large auto and boat dealerships.
Recently, I discussed the desirability of living in Hot Springs with a physician friend. The physician explained that his two adult children who are both in medical school are planning on returning to Hot Springs to practice medicine. The father told me that what motivated his highly educated children to want to return to Hot Springs was the "quality of life." Few other towns offer beautiful lakes and scenic mountains adjacent to our city. Also, an important benefit to living in Hot Springs is the well-run school systems that provide our children with a good education.
In the last several decades, our downtown has once again become something we can be proud of. Gone are the shabby topless bars and poorly maintained storefronts that were an embarrassment to our downtown in the 1970s. Our downtown now has upscale retail stores, gourmet restaurants and renovated hotels.
Since 1985, our national park has received over $30 million in improvements including the renovation of the Fordyce Bath House as the national park's visitor center. All but one of the former bath houses on Bathhouse Row have been remodeled and are occupied.
New tourist attractions including Garvan Woodland Gardens and the Anthony Chapel have enhanced the visitor's experience. Special events including the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, music and jazz festivals, and Gallery Walk have added to the excitement of downtown. The current expansion of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort will include expanded gaming facilities and a five-star hotel.
In summary, my beloved grandfather was correct when he told me that Hot Springs is the best town in America to live in. And the recent renaissance of our downtown and National Park really do make this the "golden age" of Hot Springs.
For readers who enjoy learning about the history of Hot Springs, the Garland County Historical Society has recently partnered with The Sentinel-Record to produce a new monthly online feature, the Time Tour of historic Hot Springs. This can be found at http://www.hotsr.com.