Hot Wells Natatorium

Waxahachie, Texas


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from This Was Ellis County

A publication of the Junior Historians,

Waxahachie High School, 1977

 

Hot Wells Natatorium Company

By Ted Hancock

Historic postcards of the Natatorium

In 1907 the City of Waxahachie, while trying to obtain water for municipal purposes at a site on East Madison Street, drilled a deep artesian well which produced mineral water which was unfit for municipal purposes. On April 13, 1907, drilling was stopped on the well. A large portion of the water was going to waste. P. F. Davenport, the city water superintendent reported in November of 1907 that the well was 984 feet deep with 960 feet of that depth cased. In April of 1908, Davenport stated that the total cost of the new mineral well was $29,198.28.

A group of Waxahachie’s citizens became interested in this water for use in some type of health purpose. In April of 1908, five men – C. E. Schuster, J. H. Wakeland, S. P. Spalding, N. J. Thomas, and Pete Ellis formed the corporation known as the Waxahachie Hot Wells Natatorium Company. The corporation’s purpose was to erect a building in Waxahachie for use as a natatorium and bathroom, and for the accumulation and loaning of money for that purpose. The corporation was chartered for fifty years. The capital stock was $10,000 divided into one hundred shares of one hundred dollars each. At charter date, all stock had been subscribed and fifty percent had been paid. Officers of the corporation were Schuster, President; Wakeland, Vice-President; and Spalding, Secretary-Treasurer.

Block 38, Old Town, the future home of the Natatorium, was located across Madison Street from the mineral well. In 1907, there was a wagon yard on this property. The property began at the northwest corner of Jefferson Street, thence East with Jefferson 153 ½ feet to the northwest corner of the Robert Armstrong lot; thence south with the west line of the Armstrong lot for 200 feet to Madison Street; thence west along Madison Street 153 ½ feet to a stake; thence north with Clift Street 200 feet to the place of beginning of the survey.

In 1900, this property was owned by A. M. Dechman and his wife who sold it in that year to J. W. Eastwood and wife for $1,250. In June of 1904, C. L. Wakeland and H. B. Mendheim purchased the property for $4,500. After the drilling of the mineral water well, the Natatorium Company purchased the property from the Wakelands for $4,500.

After formation, The Waxahachie Hot Wells Natatorium Company made plans for the construction of the Natatorium. On April 9, 1908, advertisement for bids for construction of the building was made by Mr. Spalding. Plans for the Building were available from Mr. Wakeland.

The Daily Light reported on April 8 that the old wagon yard was being torn down, and the excavation for the pool was to begin on the 9th. Details were complete on what the owners hoped would be the most modern natatorium in the country. H. W. Madison was the contractor for the building. The building was a two story white frame structure measuring 40’ x 120’ with the 120’ side fronting on Madison Street (there are differing versions on which way the building faced). The rear wall was 16’ tall. On the front of the building were a portico and a balcony. Inside the Natatorium was a pool measuring 20’ x 70’. Around the pool was a double deck tier of bathrooms. The upper deck housed fifty baths, several showers and vapor baths. The parlor of the building was elegantly decorated. To the rear and side of the building was a park and flower garden.

By May 9, work on the building had been progressing at a satisfactory rate. An early opening was predicted. The suits had been ordered and upon arrival, the pool would open.

Owners of Natatorium had high hopes of making Waxahachie a resort city through the use of the new building and the mineral waters. Through the local newspaper, the Natatorium Company owners called on local citizens to help them in their projected advertising of the Waxahachie mineral water spread, inquiries were received concerning the mineral waters from as far away as Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, and several points in Texas.

The mineral Water was the best; was the universal verdict of all that had given it a fair test. It compared well with mineral and hot springs in the North and East. Although the water had medicinal qualities, the water tasted and smelled bad. Some people preferred to squeeze lemon juice into the water in order to swallow it. The water was brownish in color and it would leave a ring around the natatorium pool. Some people would soak their glassware in the water in order to give it a brown look. From the medicinal standpoint, it was reported, a glassful of the water was as effective as two tablespoons of castor oil. One could not remain in the pool for a long period of time because it was too exhausting. An unverified report stated that the water was piped to the Rogers Hotel.

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A committee of company directors appeared before the city council of Waxahachie on April 8, 1908, and requested an ordinance to permit the Hot Well Natatorium Company to use the city’s hot well water for a period of five years. The city agreed to a $25 monthly rental fee for a five-year period as long as the company obtained benefits. The ordinance provided that the council could direct that a drinking fountain for public use, to cost not less than $100, be built and maintained. This fountain was to be built and paid for by the company. It was built.

In both the Waxahachie Enterprise and Daily Light there appeared from time to time small editorial quips about the mineral water and its wonder working powers.

The natatorium remained active at least through 1910. Some local physicians felt that bathing in the hot mineral waters was injurious to health. This opposition, no doubt, influenced some people. According to one source, the pool lost popularity after a Trinity University student was found drowned at the bottom of the pool. This source felt that this incident had a powerful negative influence on the use of the natatorium facilities.

Reports differ on what happened to the natatorium building. One believed that the building was used for storage purposes for a number of years and burned in 1915. One report stated that the building was torn down.

A wooden pavilion in the park area remained standing through the years and was used until casing on the water outlet on the fountain caved in; at which time it was capped. Sources state that this happened in 1947 or 1948. This area is now a playground and city-county health office site.

The Natatorium did not meet the high hopes of the company owners and Waxahachie missed a chance of becoming an outstanding health resort.

References:

City of Waxahachie, Council Minutes.

Deed Records of Ellis County.

Interview with Herman Cook.

Waxahachie Enterprise.

Waxahachie Daily Light.

 

The following was taken from an article by Elmer Fincher of the Daily Light. (Date Unknown)

There will be some Waxahachians today who can possibly remember the Natatorium and there are many that can remember the hot well.

The area around the well seemed to be a gathering place. There was a skating rink there at one time and at another time a group of kiddie rides. Summer nights around the well were something else, for there was a steady stream of people going in and out of the shed filling their jugs.

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