Buckstaff Bath House was built in 1912. It is the only remaining bathhouse in use on bathhouse row in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Buckstaff was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It is privately owned and operated but regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
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It is located at 509 Central Avenue. Their phone number is 501-623-2308. Central Avenue is the main street that runs through the National Park. Across from Buckstaff and other non-operational bathhouses is a strip consisting of restaurants and shops that cropped up in the early days when the bathhouses were most popular. Forty seven hot springs are piped to a central reservoir and then pumped from there to the bathhouses and fountains.
Youll find several free parking lots close by as well as 2 hour parking on the street.
Reservations cannot be made at Buckstaff. The hours are March 1 through November 30- Monday through Saturday 7:00AM to 11:45AM and 1:30PM to 3:00PM. When we were there in early June they had just started opening on Sundays from 9:00AM to 1:00PM. During December and through February they are opened Monday through Friday 7:00AM to 11:45 and 1:30PM to 3:00PM; Saturday 7:00AM to 11:45.
When we went to the National Park Visitor Center we saw two videos. One showed the bathhouses as they were during their most popular times. The other showed a more modern video showing exactly what you will find if you decide to go to a bathhouse. There are others around. The Arlington Hotel has a traditional bath but reservations are required. There is at least one bath that is coed. However, the bath, although it has Hot Springs water, is chlorinated.
The baths should all consist of a series of steps using the water from the mountain that was/is thought to have healing properties. Theodore Roosevelt was said to come here for his polio. If nothing else we had read that they were very relaxing.
About Buckstaff and the bath- my experience:
Buckstaff Bath House is a beautiful historic building complete with a porch and rocking chairs. We decided to treat ourselves to these healing baths on a Monday about 10:00AM. There is a corral leading toward the reception area indicating that it can get crowded. There were some flaws to this experience. The first one I consider significant. No one signed anything nor were we asked anything. I had read not to do these baths if you have high blood pressure, diabetes and I would think if a woman is pregnant. I was shocked!
After we put our names on a piece of paper and paid my husband went with a male attendant and I went with a female attendant. The elevator I went in is the original one complete with a handle that closes the door and sent us upstairs. You cant go on the elevator alone.
I waited in an old but nicely decorated area with a dresser and hairdryer as well as magazines. The mens baths are on the first floor. I only waited for a moment when an attendant called my name and brought me to a dressing room with a locker. I kept the locker key around my wrist. At the reception desk they give you boxes in which you can put valuables. That is a much more secure area since only a couple of staff is there. The locker seems to be one that could be fairly easy to open without a key so I wouldnt put anything of value in the locker. Use the boxes downstairs or do as we did and take off your jewelry, watches, etc. before you go. I saw a woman with an ankle bracelet on so not everyone removes all jewelry but I think you will be more comfortable especially during the massage.
My husband and I compared notes after and there were a few differences. Our baths were essentially the same. There is a no clothes option. I saw only one woman with a bathing suit on. Unless you are extremely modest, the experience is nicer without clothes.
The area looked just as it did in the movie from long ago. The paint is peeling and areas could use a little touch up. The equipment is old and old fashioned. I dont think this will ever be changed. This is an historical building so keeping it the way it has been for decades is intentional not due to lack of money.
The attendants were very discreet. My attendant was very nice and always asked me to turn around in order to put around a large sheet Toga style. My husband was given a sheet as well but most of the time the men used towels only.
The bath was very nice. It wasnt too hot- it is kept at about 98 to 102 degrees. I was in the tub for about 15 minutes or so. There was a clock above me but I tried not to watch it. The tub is supposed to last between 15 and 20 minutes. A machine like Ive never seen was turned on to make the bath into a whirlpool. I drank 2 small cups of hot water. (This is all from Hot Springs National Park.) My husband had one cup before his bath and then another before his massage. A vigorous scrub with a loofah mitt is an option used to stimulate circulation. Mine was quick and nothing special. There is no air-conditioning although there is a fan in one of the rooms and another room had an open window.
Clydene, my attendant, told me to get out very carefully with my back to her and she wrapped the sheet around me. From there I took a sitz bath. There was a sign that this is good for back pain, hemorrhoids and prostate problems. I sat in a basin type tub and was told to shut off the water when it was half full. My water was not hot; it was just warm. It is supposed to be 105 degrees. I could have asked Clydene to make it warmer but I chose not to. My husband was asked if he had any of the above problems and he said no. We dont know if it was because he said no or just the protocol on the mens side but he sat on a wooden board and the water dripped on his back and it was scalding hot. I sat in this for about 10 minutes. You will sit down thus are naked for a moment. The attendant gave me a towel to cover the front of me and a stool on which to put my feet.
I noticed bleach and scrub brushes everywhere. Although the area looked old, it felt clean I saw no mold or dirt. We were barefoot, something I dont even do in my gym, but we had no option here since I didnt bring flip flops but the floor felt and looked clean.
From there I was asked if I wanted to sit in the steam machine. This truly looked like a metal torture chamber and felt like one! In the video we are told that it is a vapor machine and that we have a choice of a steam room or a machine with our heads out. We had no choice. The women's option was a metal-type box that we sat in with our heads out and the sheet around our necks to make sure none of the steam escapes. This was the hottest steam Ive encountered. There are notices around that some of the processes might cause some redness and if your skin is very sensitive this might not be for you, especially this particular machine. My husband had no choice as well. The men had the steam room which was also hot. Just as I was about to say HELP get me out, Clydene came over and wrapped me up again. The time in this should be about 2 5 minutes. I dont know how long I was sitting in this steam. It felt like an hour and was probably 2 minutes.
Next are the hot packs. The literature says that either 3 or 4 hot packs will be put on whatever area that you want. I read a paper on the wall that we should tell the attendant if the packs are too hot and we want them cooled down. I asked for mine around my feet and hands. Initially they were burning hot but they cooled down enough to be tolerable. Clydene put a cold towel around my head apparently to cool my body down a bit. My husband was not asked where he wanted the packs. In fact his towels werent wrapped around him. He had 3 - one under his back and 2 on this chest. He wasnt impressed with his attendant in general.
When I was done with this it was time for a needle shower. The video showed sharp sprays of water coming from the sides of the shower. My experience was that the water wasnt sharp and in fact a couple of the shower heads werent even spraying water. In spite of this the water was cool so it felt really nice because I was so hot.
Now it was time for a massage. Unfortunately all the massage therapists (licensed) were not working so there was a 20 minute back up. My husband finished 40 minutes before me. In spite of this the massage was wonderful. Soft music was playing and it was the only time I didnt feel like cattle. The therapist showed a bit of warmth. I was, for example asked if I hurt anywhere or if there was anything the therapist should no. This lasted 20 minutes and was worth the money. My husband thought so as well.
From here I was shown the way to my locker, got dressed, dried my hair and an attendant took me down the elevator. There are items for sale, free postcards and a calendar on the counter. The postcards are nice so remember to take a couple and dont forget your mitt. You paid for it.
~Whirlpool Mineral Bath which includes the tub bath (with whirlpool), sitz bath, vaporcabinet, and needle shower is $18.25.
~The Loofa Mitt costs $3.75.
~The Swedish Massage is $20.00.
You can combine all these for $42.00 which is what we did. ~This is called The Traditional Bathing Package.
~For $9.00 you can get a Moisturizing Paraffin Treatment for your hands.
~You can also opt for the Deluxe Bathing Package for $51.00 which adds the Paraffin Treatment to the Traditional Package.
~In addition they now offer (with reservations) manicures for $20.00; pedicures for $30.00; a ½ hour facial for $37.50 or a 1 hour facial for $67.00.
Jos Final Thoughts:
All this should take about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Because of the massage backup I was there over 2 hours.
I wont be going back to Hot Springs for my yearly cure all however I will look into springs close to Massachusetts. There arent many. I know there is one in NY but most are in the west and arent necessarily bath houses but open springs. These springs are 143 degrees. At Hot Springs they are mechanically cooled so you can get into a bath and fill up jugs at the several water fountains in town designed just for that reason. We took home 15 jugs of water.
I cant imagine not giving the bath a try if you go to Hot Springs. I would say if you want to save a few dollars and dont need a loofah mitt skip that.
The baths didn't cure me of any aches and pains permanently. They did however relieve aches for awhile and both my husband and I felt wonderful afterward.
Ive never done this before so I have no idea if my experience was below average or excellent. I will rate this based on my enjoyment of it and the fact I am recommending it. There were flaws as you read- water that wasnt hot enough, showers that didnt work, vapor that I couldnt smell and a rushed feeling. In spite of this it was a unique experience.
Please feel free to leave me a question or comment. Ill be glad to answer whatever I can.
I am documenting our 3-month summer travels and will leave my reviews as I write them.
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