About the City Cemetery
The City of Hot Springs owns a parcel of approximately five acres of wooded property that was once known as the Pest House Cemetery. Originally purchased by the city in 1895 in response to an outbreak of smallpox, it was used as an area to quarantine patients and to bury those who died of pestilent diseases. The site became the location of a rudimentary hospital constructed by the city referenced as the Pest House, hence the name of the cemetery. Later, the site was also used to bury paupers and unknown individuals. The last burial at the site was in 1984. Since then, to protect the property, the city allowed it to be returned to nature. Over time, it became overgrown with trees and dense underbrush.
Recent interest has arisen through a citizen-driven initiative to research and preserve the city cemetery. During the research process, the city learned that the cemetery had not been registered. As a first step, the city registered it with the Arkansas Department of Health, not because it was an active cemetery, but because the city desired to protect the site from anything being built on it in the future.
In 2016, the city contracted with a company to bring in live goats in an effort to clear the property, while preserving any existing headstones or markers that may be in existence. The city is currently working with the Arkansas Archeological Survey research station at Henderson State University to identify as many gravesites as possible. There is still a great deal of downed brush, sunken graves, and debris in the area. The archeologist will provide direction on how to proceed for proper cleanup without damaging the integrity of any archeological artifacts that may have been used as markers of some type.
Once the process with the archeologist is complete, the city plans to work with Arkansas Historic Preservation on how to best preserve and protect the site in order to prevent desecration, which may include the installation of a historical marker. Throughout these efforts, the city will be cognizant of the site’s historical significance, with the goal of protecting the graves and maintaining the dignity of those that are buried there.
With this project still in its initial phases, it is too early to predict what the final outcome will be. Until the project is completed, the city has restricted access by placing No Trespassing signs along the property boundary to ensure the preservation of the site and the protection of the public.