Oaklawn Park has been woven into the fabric of Hot Springs, Ark., since 1904. And while the track plays an important role in the town’s history, this southern resort town has many other unique facets to her colorful personality. Here are six facts you might not know about Hot Springs.
1. Hot Springs – a popular destination because of the thermal waters – became the first land protected by the federal government as an area for recreation on April 20, 1832, forty years before Yellowstone became our country’s first national park. In 1921, Congress changed Hot Springs’ designation to national park. It is the country’s only national park in an urban area.
2. In 1886, Hot Springs became one of the earliest destinations for baseball spring training when Cap Anson brought his Chicago White Stockings. Soon, over 250 players were coming each year and practicing on the five fields, including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young and Stan Musial.
3. Organized crime ruled Hot Springs in the 1930’s. Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano and other infamous mobsters frequented the town. They were attracted to the quaint town that had offered illegal gambling for decades. In the 1960s, a federal government crackdown ended the gangster era in Hot Springs.
4. Hot Springs is the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. He graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1964. His mother, a nurse anesthetist, loved Oaklawn and went to the track almost every day each season.
5. The hot springs really are hot. They flow out of the ground at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit and produce almost one million gallons of water a day. The waters are pumped into historic bathhouse row and several other spas and hotels downtown, and visitors can touch the waters in several pools in the national park.
6. Do drink the water. People visit “jug fountains” and take it home. Mountain Valley Spring Water, bottled at a nearby spring, is the water of choice for the U.S. Senate and was served to legendary racehorses Secretariat and Sunday Silence.