Historical Society presents top posts from last 3 years
With a Facebook page approaching 7,000 followers, the Garland County Historical Society makes a new post with historic photos and captioned information nearly every day.
Liz Robbins, the historical society’s executive director presented the page’s top 10 posts to members of Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday.
Of all the posts made to the page between Jan. 1, 2020 and July 31, 2022, Robbins discussed 10 of the page’s most popular.
Robbins first discussed a post about the Blakely Dam construction.
“You’ve heard of Harvey Couch, he was the founder of (Arkansas Power & Light),” Robbins said. “He built Remmel Dam and Carpenter Dam on the Ouachita River in 1924 and 1932, but Blakely Dam was really his dream.”
However, the federal government assumed full control of the project in 1939.
“And of course, the dam created Lake Ouachita, the largest lake located entirely in Arkansas,” she said. “Of course, the hard thing was that the lake inundated a once populated area.”
Graves from 16 cemeteries had to be relocated, she said. Homes, schools, churches, businesses, farms and entire towns “just disappeared. … But, the lakes created by Blakely and the other dams have certainly been a boom to our economy.”
The post coming in ninth for the largest audience reached was about the Hot Springs Opera House, a three-story brick Victorian style building at 200 Central Ave. Built in 1882, the opera house could seat up to 1,000 people, Robbins said.
The first floor of the building was leased to three businesses, she said. On the left was a grocery store, in the middle an undertaker’s and on the right was the opera house saloon.
“Now, that saloon was the scene of real-life drama in 1884, when our police chief Tom Toler faced off with a violent criminal named Ed Howell,” she said.
The last live performance in the opera house was in 1917, she said. The building was torn down in 1961, and a parking deck replaced it.
The post with the eighth-largest reached audience was about the Sunset Drive-In theater. The theater was built in 1951 in the 3300 block of Central Avenue by Jessie Howe. It closed in 1983.
At number seven was “Hell’s Half Acre,” described as “a barren, weird, forbidding conglomeration of boulders, an arsenal for titans.”
“Now, actually, it’s a slope formed by an accumulation of broken rocks on the Indian Mountain,” Robbins said. “Well, so there’s this big, rocky weird thing out there. Hot Springs promoters could turn anything into a tourist attraction, even a field of broken rocks.”
Stories were told about an imprisoned devil held captive there, she said. Visitors were said to have encountered it, claiming to hear moans and shrieks.
“Visitors flocked there,” she said. “They’d drive horses and wagons and take carriages out there, thought it was great.”
The sixth-most popular post featured Bat Masterson, a U.S. Army Scout, lawman, professional gambler and journalist, “known, of course, for his adventures in the American Old West, but not as many people know that he often came to Hot Springs,” Robbins said.
After becoming a sports journalist in New York, Masterson and his wife would spend at least a month in Hot Springs every winter or early spring, she said.
“Masterson loved Hot Springs, and he contributed a lot of money to help the town after a lot of it burned in the big fire in 1905,” she said. “Well, in 1913, a reformed city government shut down gambling, and Masterson was not happy. He said, ‘the shutdown had left the town groggy and hanging on the ropes. The only thing the town will have left before long will be the hot water, and it’s just possible that someone will try and stop that from running.’”
The fifth most popular article featured another famous personality, who was born in Hot Springs: Western movie star Alan Ladd.
Although Ladd moved away from Hot Springs at about 5 years old, he was photographed signing autographs for patients at the Army and Navy General Hospital and promoting the reopening of the Majestic Hotel.
Garland Anthony of Anthony Timberlands, was featured in the fourth-most popular post, taking ownership of a sawmill in 1907.
“By the ’30s, he was reported to be the largest independent lumber producer in the U.S.,” Robbins said. “And in the ’60s, he was also well known in Hot Springs as a motel and hotel developer.”
Anthony built the Velda Rose and the Velda Rose Towers on Park Avenue. He also built the Avanelle motel, the Anthony motel and Anthony Island.
As the last person featured in the most popular posts, Babe Ruth, although not from Hot Springs, still might be the most famous visitor the town has ever had, Robbins said.
“During the Red Sox years at Hot Springs, they won four World Series Championships in 1912,” ‘14, ‘16 and ‘18, and of course, Babe Ruth helped them with that,” she said. “He also came here with some New York Yankee teammates in 1921, ‘22, ‘23 and ‘25.
“He loved Hot Springs,” Robbins said, noting he enjoyed the thermal baths, the country club, the race track and shooting.
The second-most popular post featured a photo of a couple visiting the Noble Fountain on Reserve Street in the 1950s, across the street from Steak and Shake.
“The fountain was named for Secretary of the Interior, John Noble, who was a conservation hero,” Robbins said. “He set aside the first forest preserves.
“This fountain moved around a lot. At first, it was at the corner of Central and Reserve and it became one of the most photographed backdrops in town. … Later, it was moved to two different places in front of the Park Administration Building, and in 1957, it had its final move to the newly finished south entrance of the Grand Promenade, and you can enjoy it there today.”
The most popular post on the Garland County Historical Society’s Facebook page reached 17,552 people, Robbins said. It featured the Medical Arts building, known as Hot Springs’ skyscraper of health.
Built in 1929, the building cost $375,000 to construct, she said.
“Fifty-five doctors occupied the offices on the first 14 floors,” she said. “It was kind of a who’s who of the medical community in Hot Springs.”
By 1984, most of the doctors had moved out of the building, and Dr. George Fotioo was the last to leave the building in 1991.
“After being abandoned for many years, thankfully, the building is being brought back to life by Parth Patel as an Aloft hotel in association with the Marriott International management Firm,” she said.”