Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Hospitality of “Bathing” – The Fry Family, part 2

Charles William Fry (1842-1922) was one of seven sons of Philip Slaughter Fry and his wife Pamelia Anderson.  He grew up in Orange county Virginia, and at the age of seventeen or eighteen he set out to teach school in Chicot county Arkansas.  It is not certain what drew him there, but he clearly had a relationship with the Abner Gaines family (former Virginians), with whom he lived.  He returned to Virginia for the term of the Civil War, and served with distinction.  But, following the war he again made his home in Arkansas, where he married Fannie Davies, the daughter of Anthony Harpin Davies and Mildred Pollard Gaines.  Fannie Davies Fry died young, leaving him with two children.  A more detailed biography of Charles William Fry can be found at the Family Stories website.

Charles Fry was known by friends as “Willie” Fry, and by family members as “Uncle Willie”.  Many records show him as CW Fry.  Willie Fry remained in Chicot county Arkansas for a number of years after his wife’s 1870 death.  He never remarried.  In 1878 he determined to remove to Hot Springs Arkansas, and following up on the “family tradition”, became involved in the Hot Springs bathing, health, and tourist industry.  Charles William Fry was a resident of Hot Springs Arkansas for more than forty years.

In 1832 the US Congress set aside the area now known as Hot Springs National Park to preserve the springs for public benefit.  Because the land was reserved for federal use, it became known as the Hot Springs Reservation.  But, despite this designation, many private citizens laid claim to land, and by 1875 there were “five bath houses, twelve good hotels, and many smaller hotels and boarding houses” making use of the Springs.  Finally, in 1877, the US Supreme Court ruled against the private land owners, and the government established greater control of the area. 

CW Fry served the Hot Springs community in a number of capacities - real estate agent, circuit court clerk, and early bath house operator.  He may have been attracted to the area by his mother-in-law’s brother, William Haney Gaines, a significant figure in the development of the Hot Springs bathing and tourist industry.  In 1888, CW Fry was identified as the manager of the newly built Horseshoe, along bath house row.  Albert Belding Gaines, son of William Haney Gaines, was one of the primary owners.  The Horseshoe was named for its Moorish, horseshoe shaped windows – and it charged $3.50 for a series of twenty-one baths.  An 1890 report to the Secretary of the Interior states:

It [the Horeshoe] obtains water from the spring at the northeast corner of Big Iron. There is no cut off valve. This being one of the new houses, it is in a fair state of preservation and with proper attention and repair will probably last from eight to twelve years yet. The management seemed to be better than the average.

By the 1880s much of the bathing was overseen by physician who prescribed detailed regimens for the “invalid”.  The hot baths were usually taken once a day for three weeks, when a rest was necessary . A second three weeks' course was then taken, followed again by an abstinence from bathing for several days. The usual stay at the springs was from one to three months. Drinking the water, taking supplemental medicines, resting, and participating in light exercise were all a part of the healing process. Vapor cabinets also became popular.  Beyond the bathhouse activities there were all kinds of amusements and entertainments to enliven the visitors. 

Willie Fry eventually managed two of the largest Hot Springs establishments, the Majestic Hotel Baths and the Arlington Hotel Baths.  The Arlington, which still graces the Hot Springs Historic District, was originally opened in 1875, and was rebuilt in a much grander style in 1893. The finance partners were Samuel Fordyce, William H Gaines, and Samuel Stitt (married to William Gaines sister).  The 1893 building was under the management of CW Fry around the turn of the century.

The history tab of today’s Arlington Hotel website gives this description of the 1893 structure:

The original building was razed to make way for a new 300-room Spanish Renaissance structure in 1893. The new Arlington was referred to as “the most elegant and complete hotel in America” in Charles Cutter’s 1892 Guide Book. Designed in three sections, but with five levels, the “new” Arlington featured a spacious veranda with arcades running the full length of the hotel. Photographs and records in the 1894 and 1896 Cutter’s Guide show a rotunda, grand ornamental oak stairway circling a beautiful glass dome, the lobby, a pink parlor, and grand ballroom. The building was destroyed by fire April 5, 1923.

Charles William Fry died on the 6th of September 1922, seven months before the burning of the Arlington Hotel.  He is buried in Hot Springs’ Hollywood Cemetery. 

For more details on Charles William Fry visit his page at Family Stories, pamgarrett.com.

Further Reading:
The Hospitality of “Bathing” – The Fry Family, part 1
Bath House Row; from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

About the photos:
Bath house row, Hot Springs, Arkansas; Detroit Publishing, c.1900; Photograph retrieved from the Library of Congress.
note – This lovely photo from the LOC collection is of the Horse Shoe Hotel on Bath House Row.  It has been identified from a less accessible photo that describes the horseshoe shaped window.

Moving back in time: 
Charles William Fry 1842 > Philip Slaughter Fry 1801 > Reuben Fry 1766 > Rev Henry Fry 1738 > Joshua Fry c.1700.
Charles William Fry is my 2nd great-granduncle.

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