The city has one of the largest collections of historic buildings in Arkansas.
The National Baptist Hotel in Hot Springs was built in 1923 as the Woodmen of the Union Building. The hotel, bathhouse and performance venue became the center of African American culture in the city, hosting Negro League players and Black entertainers like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
The building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, is one of the stops on a tour of Hot Springs Green Book sites featured in the latest installment of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s Sandwiching in History series.
The Negro Motorist Green Book, created in 1936 by Harlem postman Victor Green, was a guide that helped African Americans travel the country safely during a time of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Hot Springs is one of a number of Arkansas cities included in the directory, but it’s unique because of how many of those places can be visited today.
“They were one of the best places to go dive into the subject matter,” says Scott Kaufman, director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. “They still have a lot of their Green Book sites that are still there.”
In this month’s virtual tour, viewers can explore the Pleasant Street Historic District, which was one of the most prominent African American neighborhoods in Hot Springs. Properties in this area that were listed in the Green Book included hotels, tourist homes, a beauty school, restaurants and a loan company.
“Today the neighborhood houses the largest intact collection of buildings in the state that were listed in the Green Book during the ‘30s through the ‘60s,” said National Register Survey Historian Ralph Wilcox.
Wilcox has been researching Green Book sites for a few years and that combined with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center hosting a Green Book exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, inspired this month’s Sandwiching In History program, Kaufman says.
While the MTCC exhibition ends its stay in Little Rock Aug. 1, the Sandwiching in History video will remain available on the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s Facebook page and Youtube channel.
The monthly program used to be offered in person, but the pandemic prompted a switch to a virtual format. Kaufman was apprehensive about the change initially, but it has had its advantages.
For example, staff members previously focused on central Arkansas locations while hosting in-person tours due to travel and time constraints. Now that they’re producing videos, they have time to explore other parts of the state. Additionally, they can reach more people who can watch the videos at their convenience.
“The numbers just skyrocketed when we switched to virtual,” Kaufman says. “That was at the start of the pandemic too, but we’re still seeing really, really high numbers.”
Prior to the pandemic, Kaufman says 50 to 80 people would show up to the in-person sessions, but since moving the program online, their audience has grown to thousands of people. The plan is to continue presenting the program in a virtual format next year.
Sandwiching in History videos debut at noon the first Friday of the month on Facebook and YouTube. The remainder of the 2021 tours are:
Aug. 6 — Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Heritage Park (Jacksonville)
Sept. 3 — Historic Downtown Searcy
Oct. 1 — Mount Holly Cemetery (Downtown Little Rock)
Nov. 5 — Historic Argenta (North Little Rock)
Dec. 3 — Gibb-Altheimer House (Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter)
Kaufman says they’re always looking for ideas of places to visit and you can email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. To view this month’s Sandwiching in History video as well as past tours, visit the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s website.