Two of a Kind: Hot Springs and Sulphur Springs

Two of a Kind

Both Platt National Park (originally named Sulphur Springs Resevvation and a part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area) and Hot Springs National Park are remnants of the great age of hydrotherapy. Each park was initially set aside as a United States Reservation by Congress (Hot Springs in 1832 and Sulphur Springs in 1902). The two parks contributed to the emerging National Park System and illustrate the changing values of what was deemed worthy to be a "National Park." However there are some very key differences between the two parks, the most important being the temperature of the water and the amount of development that was permitted to occur. The water at Platt National Park, now Chickasaw National Recreation Area, is cold, coming out of the ground at 63 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The water at Hot Springs is hot, coming out of the ground at 147 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Healing Waters" and National Parks

“Taking the cure” at mineral spring resorts became highly fashionable in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, when thousands visited such famous spas as Bath, Aix-les-Bains, Aachen, Baden-Baden, and Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary). As mineral springs were found in America, they too attracted attention. Places like Saratoga Springs in New York and White Sulphur Springs in Virginia (now West Virginia) were developed privately, but Congress acted to maintain federal control of two springs west of the Mississippi.

Hot Springs in the Arkansas Territory comprised 47 springs emerging from a fault at the base of a mountain. In 1832 Congress reserved four sections of land containing Hot Springs “for the future disposal of the United States.” After the Civil War the Interior Department permitted private entrepreneurs to build and operate bathhouses to which the spring waters were piped, and the Hot Springs Reservation became a popular resort.

In 1902 the Federal Government purchased 33 mineral springs near Sulphur, Oklahoma Territory, from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to create the Sulphur Springs Reservation, also under Interior’s jurisdiction. The reservation was enlarged in 1904, and two years later Congress renamed it Platt National Park after the recently deceased Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut, who had been active in Indian affairs.

In 1921 the State of Oklahoma constructed a tuberculosis sanatorium for veterans immediately south of Platt National Park. A trail connects the Veterans Center to Pavilion Springs. At Platt National Park, there were few bathhouses built, and all were required to move outside of the park boundaries when the original Sulphur Springs Reservation was established. Also, the main focus was not bathing in the water, but drinking it. The water was reputed to be a cure all for a variety of ailments, including infection, asthma, indigestion, nausea, nervousness, arthritis, weakness, lameness, and many more. It was also reputed to act as insect repellent, guarding against mosquitos, chiggars, and ticks. The National Park Service neither substantiates nor denies claims about the water's therapeutic values.

The Mineral Water Parks Today

Congress redesignated Hot Springs Reservation a national park in 1921. Although the park encompassed some natural terrain, it remains more an urbanized spa and historical area than a natural area.

Platt National Park was incorporated in the new Chickasaw National Recreation Area in 1976 and no longer exists as a park on its own.

Last updated: February 16, 2021

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