Once Home to Mineral Springs
by Robert Uzzilia
Cairo Town Historian
Postcard of the Bavarian Manor from the personal collection of
Originally published in Daily Mail July 20, 2003
Ever since the days of the Roman Empire, people have sought the supposed healing benefits of waters flowing from the earth. Initially one could take a “sulphur bath” reaping the full benefits derived from immersion. Perhaps the natural warmth and distinctive odor of the water contributed to the public’s perception of its healing power. Eventually, drinking the water from underground springs was deemed equally beneficial. Native Americans in Saratoga had discovered early on what they termed as their “Mineral Spring of the Great Spirit.“
By the American Revolution, numerous springs were being
discovered and the product marketed as having great benefits. It would seem
there were many entrepreneurs skilled at preying on the fears of the public
toward disease outbreak, which were numerous before modern medicine developed
vaccines. Supplementing the claims of the spring’s owner were the published
“testimonials” of people supposedly cured of their ills from the healing
waters. The Red Spring in Saratoga, named for its distinctive color, was the Spa
City’s first “Bath House” and claimed to cure eruptive skin diseases.
From an 1880’s pamphlet it is stated that the Lake Auburn Mineral Spring in North Auburn, Maine was responsible for reversing the effects of a typhoid fever outbreak by its use. The town had an impure water supply and after using the Lake Auburn Mineral Water “were speedily restored to health.” Also, “people afflicted with other diseases, both of an acute and chronic character, such as dyspepsia, diseases of the kidneys, stone in the bladder, liver complaint, piles, dropsy and other equally obstinate diseases began its use and immediately found relief.” While probably any water purer than what the town was already using would have been beneficial, I’m sure the owner wasted no time in publishing the “results” from his product’s use and began bottling it for sale to the general public.
The consumption of mineral waters of various types continued as
a fashionable Victorian trend through the rest of the 19th and early 20th
centuries. It even found its way to the small but thriving hamlet of Purling, in
the resort area of Greene County in the Northern Catskills.
Around 1900, Anson Wright had already established a successful wood turning mill in the glen below the Shingle Kill Falls. Now he was searching for a unique addition to his product line of rustic items which included everything from walking staffs to smoking stands. He must have thought about his main attraction, which was the beautiful cascading waters of the falls. Most people swam in the deep pool at the base of the falls to cool off. After surveying the area below the falls, Wright opted to have a small catch basin carved out of a shear cliff in what was called “Clock Factory Hole,” to collect naturally-occurring Sulfur Water. This prompted him to consider this area a “park” and he began charging guests ten cents to enter and enjoy the beneficial waters and stunning scenery. He bottled the product and soon had a mail order sideline.
Wright’s venture was not the first of its kind in the town of Cairo. About thirty-five years prior, Walker Lennon had established the beautiful White Sulfur Spring House just up the road. Starting as just a small farm house for a handful of boarders, the house grew to accommodate over 175 by the turn of the 20th century. It was later known as the Columbian and presently Bavarian Manor. While its tenure as a “Spring House” was brief, the resort continued to lure many guests to its doors, for the healthful mountain air, ample farm fresh food and fine hospitality.
Other natural springs continue to provide a clean and steady source of water in the town to this day. But it was the great claims of past years, those glowing testimonials, that so intrigued the average citizen that lured them to believe that something as pure and simple as water, taken from the earth would cure their ills. They wanted to believe in those healing powers and so for them it was so. While drinking water in general is good for the human system by aiding in replacing lost fluids and keeping things "flushed", even too much water can be harmful. But modern medicine would burst the bubble created by the “Snake Oil Liniment” salesmen and many scientific analyses would determine that many of the medicinal claims were just that.
It is interesting, however, to look back and take pride in the fleeting dreams of our forefathers of what might have become a spa city such as Saratoga or Ballston. Oh to dream.