Hot Springs Creek
What's been both a curse and a blessing to Hot Springs? Hot Springs Creek. Beginning at a cold-water spring off Park Avenue, for a long time the creek flowed unrestrained through the narrow valley in which Hot Springs developed. People had to cross rickety wooden bridges to the bath houses and businesses on the east side of the creek, which left “scarcely passage for a carriage” along much of the main street. A flowing waterway was tempting to people wanting to quickly dispose of garbage or waste, so the beautiful creek became a smelly sewer. Drier periods, when there was not enough flow to carry away the sewage and trash, were especially odorous, unsightly, and unhealthy. And when heavy rains came, the creek became a torrent that destroyed property and sometimes took lives.
In 1883, the Department of the Interior assigned the job of controlling the creek to Hot Springs Reservation Superintendent Samuel G. Hamblen. Hamblen, an engineer, built a continuous keystone arch made from an unusually hard form of quartz-containing sandstone, which was quarried at the base of West Mountain. Construction, which began at the “Y” where Park and Whittington avenues meet Central Avenue, finished in 1884 at a cost of $136,745. The finished culvert, 20 feet wide and about 15 feet tall and 3,500 feet long, ran along the west side of Central and then under Arlington Lawn and under the sidewalk along Bathhouse Row, down to Malvern Avenue. The completed arch was covered with dirt, and soon Victorian bath houses fronted with luxuriant lawns lined an elegant Bathhouse Row that would have been unimaginable a few years earlier.
After the creek was underground, Hot Springs had a main street that was 100 feet wide, had lost the open sewer, and had better — but not perfect — flood control. A very heavy storm can make the creek overflow, as the floods of 1910, 1923, 1960, and 2008 attest.
In 1904, the creek arch was extended past what is now Transportation Plaza, so its total length is about 2 miles. Repairs to the 131-year-old arch have been and still are needed. In 2001 a $795,000 improvement job was completed, and in 2014 the city received federal
grants of $53,678 and $480,000 for arch repair and maintenance.
What about when Hot Springs Creek emerges from its arch? The city has used the creek as the inspiration for the beautiful Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail (actually several linked trails — Transportation Plaza Trail, Valley Street Creekwalk, Friendship Trail, Hollywood Trail, the Utility Service Center Trail, and the to-be-completed Southern and Wetlands trails). Paralleling Hot Springs Creek for most of its route, the 4.2-mile trail when completed will extend from just south of Bathhouse Row to Lake Hamilton.
Preserving and creating open spaces, providing community spaces for festivals and events, and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transportation are just a few of the benefits of the trail. Led by Jean Wallace of the city's Parks and Trails Department, Hot Springs has turned the creek that was once a curse into a blessing that truly enhances the quality of our lives. It's a blessing that we'll explore more in a future issue of On the Go.
Smashed cars and upturned asphalt in front of Kress store, Flood of 1923.
At left, looking south on Central Avenue after Flood of 1923; below, workmen labor on creek arch, 1883; bottom, LawrenceEllsworth doctors' office and bath house, 1867.
Construction of creek arch at intersection of Whittington and Central avenues, 1883.