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Grand Central's downtowns with swagger

These regional downtowns are wowing their guests.


Kristy Alpert
Published March 05, 2014


Hot Springs, Arkansas

With its background of healing waters and vacationing mobsters, to say the downtown area of Hot Springs has an unusual history would be an understatement. Illegal gambling and other vices were very popular in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s in Hot Springs, and they, along with the town’s natural hot springs and luxurious bathhouses, caused the downtown to quickly become a neutral vacation spot for some of the world’s most notorious gangsters.

Today the downtown is free from goons, but the amazing stories still remain at the Gangster Museum of America; the art galleries; the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row; the architecturally stunning shops; the grand hotels, like the Arlington Resort and Spa; and in the memories of residents. For lifelong resident Jimmy Sample, just about every location in his hometown’s downtown carries the weight of personal history and an ever-expanding series of significance.

“My family has lived here for well over 100 years, so everywhere I look, there’s a piece of my history,” said Sample, director of visitor services for Visit Hot Springs. “My grandmother took the baths here, my wife’s grandfather helped lay the bricks on the grand promenade, and my aunt taught Bill Clinton in grade school. The trails in the National Park are one of our favorite hobbies, and my wife and I make it a point to eat out every Saturday at one of the locally owned restaurants in the downtown area.”


St. Charles, Missouri

Originally used as the organization point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804, St. Charles is not only the oldest city on the Missouri River but also a hub for festival lovers in the Northwest Territory. With more than 100 events and festivals occurring annually on the more than 16 acres of green space on the banks of the Missouri River, there’s always something happening in the city’s bustling downtown.

Back in the early 1800s, St. Charles was the nucleus of Missouri’s vibrant scene, serving as the first capital of Missouri from 1821 to 1826. The downtown has retained that capital buzz and offers something for the entire group to enjoy. History buffs can explore the Lewis and Clark Boat House while art aficionados check out the Foundry Art Centre; the downtown offers everything from outdoor adventure trails and gaming to shopping and fine dining.

“I love St. Charles as a destination because it is a beautiful blend of the new and old … shopping, dining and lodging with a wonderful dose of history blended into the mix,” said Martha Little, interim director for the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau and a St. Charles resident for more than 36 years. “My personal favorite is spending the year-end holidays in St. Charles.”

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