On Wednesday we enjoyed a day at the Horse Races. This has kindof become an annual Spring Break tradition for us. Oaklawn Park is a little over 2 hours away in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They have had live horse racing there since 1904. The history of Oaklawn Park and Hot Springs itself is REALLY interesting.
Hot Springs has 47 thermal springs that produce water that flows out of the ground at approximately 145 degrees farenheit. The famous bath houses have been around since the mid to late 1800’s. They were used as “health resorts” and people staying in the local sanatorium were often sent to the bath houses for a variety of strange and unusual treatments as well as to enjoy the healing waters of the springs. A lot of the city, including many of the bath houses were destroyed during the Civil War. During the rebuilding of the city several disagreements arose about which land belonged to whom. On April 24, 1876 the federal government took over the land title of Hot Springs and set up a special commission to deal with laying out the city, issue land deeds and set aside a certain portion of the land around the springs to be a permanent government reservation. Hot Spring National Park is the oldest federal reserve in the USA and the Hot Springs National Park Quarter will be the first released in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program which begins this year.
Gambling became a favorite activity in Hot Springs in the late 1800’s and continued until the “illegal” casinos were shut down in 1967. During this era Hot Spring became the nations largest gambling attraction in the country, outnumbering the casinos in Las Vegas. Al Capone and other well known gangsters were flocking to the retreats in Hot Springs. In 1946, casinos were made “illegal” and gambling came to a halt until 1954 when Orval Faubus was elected governor and chose to “turn a blind eye” to the gambling that was going on in Hot Springs. In 1967 police were sent by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller to board up the casinos and burn all of the gaming equipment. The Oaklawn Park Racetrack was somehow spared and to this day remains one of only two legal gambling locations in the state of Arkansas.
We arrived and had lunch which is expensive but good. They have really yummy corned beef and Reuben sandwiches. After we ate we watched several races. Richie really enjoys betting on the horses. He usually only plays on around $20 for the day and still has fun. He did win $38.00 on a single race which was neat. I only bet on two of the races. I just don’t get that into the whole betting part but I like to see the horses and watch the races. All in all it was a really fun day! The BEST part was that I actually got CARDED!!!! I told the guy I had been 21 for a LOOOOONG time but he still needed to see my ID!
One thought on “Oaklawn Park”
I’m so glad I got to see these, Julie. What a fun day! We used to travel to Hot Springs every year about 2 times a year to visit my family. Though my dad was born in Louisiana, he lived with his mother in Hot Springs after his daddy was killed in an oil well explosion. He was living in Hot Springs during the very era you write about–1930’s-1950’s. His Uncle had a “fur store” with a gambling and bar upstairs…daddy dealt at the poker table. When they would get “raided” by the police, they would turn the tables over and back into the trunks they were made from, and push all the racks of fur coats and stoles in front of the bar 🙂 The old bath house buildings are still so lovely…wish Hot Springs would have a rebirth of some sort…it’s been 18 years or so since I’ve been, so maybe something has happened to give the downtown a boost since then.