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Samuel George Hamblen (1836–1908)

Samuel George Hamblen was the second superintendent of the Hot Springs Reservation, now Hot Springs National Park. As superintendent, he was mainly noted for his design of the arching of Hot Springs Creek. The arching was instrumental in the development of modern-day Central Avenue in the city of Hot Springs (Garland County). Some of his other notable feats were the laying out of the first drives and bridle paths on the Hot Springs and North Mountains and enlarging the “Mud Hole.”

Samuel Hamblen was born on February 7, 1836, the ninth of ten children born to Ichabod and Lydia Fickett Hamblen in Standish, Maine. Hamblen’s father, who moved his family from Standish in the fall of 1839, bought a farm located in Oxford County, Maine. His brothers mainly ran the farm while he made a living as a house carpenter and joiner. In 1858, Samuel entered Waterville College (now Colby College), located in Waterville, Maine. His intentions were to graduate from Waterville College and attend medical school in Germany. With the breakout of the Civil War, his goal changed, and he enlisted in the Third Maine Infantry on April 30, 1861. Hamblen would also serve in the Eightieth Infantry United States Colored Troops and the Tenth United States Colored Troops Heavy Artillery. He served as a lieutenant colonel in all three units.

While serving in the Tenth United States Colored Troops Heavy Artillery, Hamblen took charge of two forts, St. Phillips and Jackson, in June of 1865. The forts were located near the mouth of the Mississippi near New Orleans. While there, he met Maria Florilla Flint; they were married on May 2, 1866, in New Orleans. The couple eventually had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood.

Hamblen was discharged on February 22, 1867, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He and his wife relocated to Buffalo, New York, where they lived until 1869, when they moved to Atlantic, Iowa, where he studied law and would pass the bar. By the early 1870s, the United States government needed surveyors to survey the Everglades in Florida. Hamblen took advantage of the opportunity, and he and his family moved to Quincy, Florida. Hamblen’s surveying skill would come to the attention of Florida governor Marcellus Lovejoy Stearns, and when Stearns was later appointed to the Hot Springs Commission (which was over the national reservation), he offered Hamblen a surveying job in the summer of 1877. Hamblen accepted. When the surveying was completed in 1879, he and his family stayed in Hot Springs, where he did private surveying and practiced law.

In October 1882, President Chester A. Arthur named Hamblen as his choice of successor to the reservation’s superintendent, General Benjamin F. Kelly, who had been appointed 1877 by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Kelly’s appointment generally was political, but in 1880, officials made the decision that it would be better to appoint an engineer as superintendent. Hamblen took charge of the reservation on January 1, 1883.

Hamblen was not popular with bathhouse owners because he made them pay their monthly rent for use of the government spring water. If they did not pay their fees, he turned their water off until they paid. This was a drastic change from Kelly, who had not bothered with fee collection. Hamblen also placed a man in charge of making improvements to the government buildings. Hamblen enlarged the public bath (dubbed the “Mud Hole”) and created separate facilities for female bathers, in addition to creating the first drives and bridle paths on the Hot Springs and North mountains. These paths would make the reservation more accessible to visitors to the city.

Hamblen, however, is best known as the superintendent who designed the arch over Hot Springs Creek. The creek in its open state created an unsightly image during dry weather, and during wet weather, the creek was muddy and turbulent. Hamblen addressed the issue, fighting for and obtaining federal funds to pay for the covering of the creek. The Department of Interior, using Hamblen’s design, first straightened the course of the creek, confining it between two parallel masonry walls. Hamblen would create Y-shaped entrance to the arch work for the two creeks to empty in the waterway to the city. An arch then was built for some distance up Fountain Street, as a conduit for water which flowed down a small mountain stream there. The stream was given greater velocity by deeper excavation at the south end. This was done in order to prevent the water from becoming stagnant at that point. The covering for the waterway was formed of wrought iron beams laid from wall to wall at intervals of six feet. The intervals were covered with low brick arches resting upon the beams. The whole was covered with earth and rock to the street grade. This allowed for a 100-foot-wide street, which replaced the original narrow road, and allowed Hot Springs to take on the look of a modern city. The wooded structures which served as bathhouses began to be replaced by permanent brick structures, making Hot Springs a city with a European feel.

Hamblen was replaced in 1885 when President Grover Cleveland appointed someone else to the post. He remained in Hot Springs until 1907, when he left for his son’s ranch in Candlish, Texas. On June 11, 1908, mid-morning, Hamblen left the ranch for town with a load of hay, but on the way, his wagon gave way, throwing him to the ground and causing him to hit his head on a stone. He was taken back to the ranch, where he was cared for even as he suffered a series of delusions, at one point shouting out battle orders in French. He died on June 12, 1908. The official cause of death was a hemorrhage in the lower part of the brain. Hamblen was originally buried on Hamblen Ranch but was moved in November of that year to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

For additional information:
“Hurrah For Hamblin.” Arkansas Gazette. October 29, 1882, p. 1.

McLane, Bobbie Jones, ed. “Diary of Colonel Samuel Hamblen and His Sojourn in Hot Springs.” The Record 18 (1976): 20–39.

Samuel G. Hamblen. Individual File. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Wilkerson, Jane A. “Hamblen’s Arch: Conflict, Controversy, and Central Avenue.” The Record 48 (2007): 14–23.

Jane A. Wilkerson

Arkansas History Commission and State Archives

Last Updated 6/8/2016

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