WHITTINGTON SPRING -- "D"

Whittington SpringYou can get Whittington Spring water from spigots inset in the retaining wall in front of the Hot Springs National Park maintenance office on Whittington Avenue. There's a guy in the picture filling his milk jug at the very spot. If you go to the other Whittington Avenue attractions (Alligator Farm, Educated Animals, Tiny Town) keep an eye peeled and you'll have no trouble finding the spring.

This spring is less popular than some of the other springs in town. For one thing it's a cold spring, and let's face it, the thermal springs are the attraction. For another thing, this water is funky tasting, kind of high in sulfur and magnesium. If you've ever taken epsom salts as a laxative, you wont' be surprised by the taste of Whittington Spring water. I assume that people who drink this water do so in anticipation of laxative properties and not for the taste. A guy at Heber Springs once told me that refrigerating springwater helps reduce the mineral taste of so-called healing waters.

Whittington Spring Mineral AnalysisAll the springs at Hot Springs have these markers posted, so the tourist and the native alike can know in some detail what they are drinking.

The spring and the street are named for Hiram Abiff Whittington, a Boston native who in 1826 was working as a printer in Brooklyn, NY when he all of a sudden got a hankering for adventure on the frontier. Accepting a job with the newly founded Arkansas Gazette, he took a steamboat as far as Arkansas Post and then made his way up river to the Little Rock using whatever transportation was moving in the right direction. He covered a lot of the distance on foot.

He made it to the Little Rock by and by, and he composed his impressions of the place into a letter to relatives in Boston.

Little Rock is situated on the south bank of the river and contains about 60 buildings -- 6 brick, 8 frame, the rest log cabins. The best brick building is the one occupied by the paper and is as good as one you will see in Boston. The Little Rock Academy is in a log hut, and the State House is a little narrow wooden building about 10 feet by 10 feet. The town has been settled about 8 years and has improved slowly. Instead of streets we walk from one cow path to another from house to house. The town is inhabited by dregs from Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana, principally Kentucky. It is a famous place for parties. We had a violin and danced all night.... The men get drunk and generally have a fight before they get sober.... If the girls feel a tick biting them at a party, and even if they are on the floor dancing, they immediately stop and unpin, and scratch themselves until they find it; it would do your heart good to see how expert the dear little affectionate good-for-nothing creatures are at catching ticks."

So you see that condescension from yankees is nothing new.

After six years at the Gazette, Whittington's health began to fail, and hearing of the curative properties of some mysterious thermal springs in the Ouachita Mountains, he put together a grub stake of $500, left his job at the newspaper and set out for the valley of the vapors.

What he found there was a guy named John Percival, who claimed to have discovered the thermal springs in 1807. Another source credits a guy named Emanuel Prudhome with the discovery, and legend holds that DeSoto passed by here. But when Whittington showed up there were four cabins owned by Percival, who rented them to the occasional visitors, hunters and trappers. Whittington bought a supply of goods from a local named Philip Physic, who had tried and failed twice to set up a mercantile enterprise. Whittington set up shop in one of the four cabins and made a go of it.

Percival had plans for the commercial exploitation of the springs, but he died in the summer of 1835. His widow sold the claim to a guy named Hale, and that leads to another Arkansas real estate scandal story that will have to wait for another day. For a time, Whittington was the only permanent resident of Hot Springs.

Later, when the hot springs in the valley of the vapors were being developed by one group of entrepeneurs, Whittington founded a resort at Chalybeate Spring, three miles away (that's according the the AHQ, I found a Chalybeate Spring on a topo map about thirty miles away, near Mount Ida), which was more comfortable and better appointed than the facilities at Hot Springs, which catered more toward the crippled and desperate. Whittington's advertisements of the day suggested that Chalybeate Springs was better suited to the sensibilities of the ladies.

By 1848 Whittington's resort boasted an orchard, a grist mill, several cabins, bowling, billiards and all kinds of exercise and wholesome diversion. By 1852, the same place was being advertised as "Randolph's Chalybeate and Sulphur Spring."

RTJ--9/1/2003

Sources:

Fletcher, Mary P.; "Notes from a Reader," Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol. 5 no. 2, p. 181.

Herndon, Dallas T.; "A Little of What Arkansas Was Like a Hundred Years Ago," Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3 no. 2, p. 101.

Jones, Ruth Irene; "Ante Bellum Watering Places of Arkansas," Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol 18 no. 3, pp. 213-222.

Moffatt, Walter; "Out West in Arkansas 1819-1840," Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol. 19 no. 1, pp 33-38.

Paulson, Alan C.; Roadside History of Arkansas, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1998. pp 274--275.



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