Robertson County TX

 
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TXGenWeb Robertson County Books & Master's Theses

G H O S T   T O W N S   O F   R O B E R T S O N   C O U N T y

See also Ghostly Haunts Collection

"Ghost Towns Of Robertson County" is a collection of interesting facts concerning the earliest settlements in Robertson County.  Although all traces of these early towns no longer exist, their memory is honored and preserved with Texas Historical Markers.  This booklet is published as a special edition for the 1975 Robertson County Springtime Pilgrimage and in celebration of the bicentennial year.

-- Mrs. Katherine Galloway

Wootan Wells

31 08 17 N / -96 43 11 W
(Hwy. 6 & FM 1373, 2.5 miles west of Bremond)
TopoZone Map

Texas historic marker reads: "Famous early health spa and resort. First well was dug 1878 by landowner Francis Wootan. Water tasted good, but turned dishes yellow and clothes red. Even so, it seemed to possess amazing curative properties. Wootan soon built a hotel and in 1879 a resort town made its debut. He formed a promotion company with T. W. Wade and more hotels, a bottling works, dance pavilion, and school sprang up. Leading socialites came from miles to 'take the waters'. Disaster struck in 1915 when fire swept the town. In 1921 the last buildings also burned." (#10958/1969)

The town Wootan Wells was the most famous health spa and resort in Texas between 1880 and 1910.  Its development was the result of conditions that existed in the late 1860s and early 1870s, during Texas Reconstruction.  Its growth may be attributed to a general desire on the part of people to escape the boredom imposed on them during the years following the Civil War.

Prior to the Civil War, the northwestern corner of Robertson County was sparsely settled and land between present Bremond and the Brazos River was virtually abandoned.  When the railroad passed through Hearne and Calvert and the town site for Bremond was staked-off in early 1869, thousands of people moved westward.  When Bremond came into existence as a roaring boom town and railroad terminus, settlers flocked to the place.

The first settlers in Bremond were railway workmen and merchants of all kinds who had followed railroad construction from Houston.  Within a year after the first train, Bremond had a population of over 2000 and the overflowing population spread into the countryside.  While the new town prospered, much of the land surrounding it was cut into farm land and cotton growers came to be near the shipping plant.

This was an interesting time in Texas history.  Reconstruction was ending; the telephone was one year from invention (1877); Thomas Edison had started manufacturing electric lights; ox-wagons were disappearing; and the Texas frontier was gone.  Medical science was improved; travel by railroad was convenient; newspapers were filled with interesting advertisements guaranteeing restoration of health by new drugs and mineral baths; and their was money in the country.  Barbed wire was in use in the late 1870s and farmers protected their crops and homes.  They dug wells and confined their prized stock near their dwellings.

Wootan Wells appeared in this first decade of Bremond's history.  Thirty years later, is would be one of the most interesting ghost towns in the state.  The town was located on the Hugh Davlin and Richard Moffitt surveys and was "split into halves" by the farm road that ran from Bremond to the Brazos.

There is no real mystery to the birth and death of the town.  It came into existence for people seeking health in its mineral waters, prospered during a generation of superstition, and then died when medical science improved and economic conditions changed.  The town and resort were the brain child of several men, including Francis Marion Wootan, T. W. Wade, Ralph N. Wade, Allen S. Lane, and a number of enterprising land traders in Bremond.

According to W. B. Ethridge, authority on "Ghost Towns In Texas," the resort had a very humble beginning in 1878.  This was when Francis Wootan, who had farmed 51 1/2 acres of land for five years, decided to dig a well to supply his family and stock with water.

When Wootan's well was completed, the landowner took a barrel of it to his home for family washing.  To his surprise, the water turned the dishes yellow and the clothing red.  The curious Mr. Wootan then tasted the water and pronounced that it "tasted good."  The news of the strange water spread over the area and friends of the family gathered to examine it. Because the water tasted good, they drank cups of it and told the world that the water had "amazing curative properties."

Mr. Wootan wasted no time with his discovery.  He drew a sample from his first well and sent it off to Dr. W. M. Mew, a U. S. Navy chemist.  The good doctor sent a sample to Professor C. F. Chambler of New York.  The Wootan family awaited the return of the analysis with interest.  When it arrived, the findings were given to the newspaper editor in Bremond.  The report ended with the following words:  "The water contains several minerals, making it suitable for drinking and for baths in a health resort."

Instantly, the 51 1/2 acres became famous.  Interests in the plot were sold over and over again; parcels were divided into smaller plots.  Wootan Wells Company was organized for the purpose of placing the health restoring waters on the market.

At first, the enterprise grew slowly.  Then, according to Ethridge, there was a "great awakening" that resulted in the building of bath houses, hotels, camp grounds, stores, and a private railroad.  Then, years after the first well was dug, Wootan Wells was a formidable city, with more than 200 permanent residents and a spring and summer population of over 2,000.  The Texas Business Directory wrote of the place, "It derives its name from the celebrated wells located there which gained an enviable reputation throughout the country."

In truth, Wootan Wells had an enviable reputation in the 1890s and people from several states came to it seeking health and beauty.  Western Union put a telegraph office at the place; Wells Fargo guilt a station from which water could be shipped over the nation.  A United States post office was authorized.  In 1884, F. M. Wootan, for whom the spa was named, was the first postmaster.

There was a depot in the town, several streets of cottages, a park, several hotels, and billiard halls.  There were two-story bath houses over the wells.

The hotels at the health resort were famous.  The Wootan, two-storied and L-shaped, was of frame front and brick basement.  It had a large dining room with a porch that ran the length of the building.  This hotel had a brick section with a park between it and the main office.  There was a well and bath house in the court near the hotel.

Starting in 1880, and continuing over twenty years, Wootan Wells experienced the ups and downs of the time.  Many thousands, including well known people, came to visit the wells and were transported to the spa over the narrow gauge railroad in a mule-drawn car.  They were housed in hotels or cottages or they were free to camp on the grounds.

A Mexican band was always on hand to welcome guests and to send happy visitors back home.  When not soaking up health in the waters, guests and visitors had picnics, played games, shopped in the several stores, or they were free to go by buggy to Flag Lake to fish or hunt.  The strong and sick alike came to the wells.  In the summer, the prairie was covered with wagons and campers.  There was a hospital at the place.  A few who came died and were buried there.

Through the first decade of the twentieth century, Wootan Wells prospered.  Then, things happened and it began to decline.  The first sign of the end was the destruction of one of the large hotels by fire.  When the famous bottling plant burned, it seemed fire would destroy everything.

In 1916, the wells began to fail.  The improvements of mineral water baths at Marlin caused further decline.  The cottages built in the 1880s were run-down and in need of repair.  The hotels and grounds were less beautiful than in former years.

The Wootan Wells Company struggled through the World War I years and hoped for better times after the war was over.  Good times, however, did not return.  In financial difficulty, the operators of the enterprise -- Wade, Wootan, McKinley, and others -- sought to rebuild the resort by borrowing money.  This too failed.  According to Mrs. E. A. Muret, "the old place seemed doomed." 

Marian Cummings wrote: "Large hotels burned, then another fire, and another.  Balls and dances were not attended and the great tent shows that had called on the Wells regularly cancelled out.  The Chautauqua missed the wells in 1918.  The last doctor at the place was Dr. F. W. Stoltje.  An effort to sell lots in the town failed in 1919.  Interest in the resort continued to decline until there was nothing left." 

By 1923, the place was gone.  Only the foundations of the old buildings and the underground cistern remained.

But, Wootan Wells cannot so lightly pass from the scene of Bremond history.  During its 44 years of existence, the health resort rose to greater fame than Bremond itself.  The many fires at the place destroyed valuable and interesting records.  Letters, newspapers articles, and memories, however, remain to tell its story.

Some of the first settlers at Wootan Wells were from distant places.  As the importance of the resort declined, many of the people who resided there moved to Bremond.  Until of late, there were many people who could tell interesting stories about Wootan Wells.  Now, a half century after the town disappeared, this number has been reduced.  For sure, there is interest in this ghost town.  An historical monument will mark the place for future generations to see and wonder about.  But, only those who lived at Wootan Wells will ever know what it was really like.

So, the ghost town of Wootan Wells, according to J. L. Turner, was indeed a part of Bremond's history.  It appeared, remained a while, and then vanished from the prairie.  Even the old cemetery cannot be found.  Except for buried brick foundations, a few square nails, rail spikes, and incomplete stories of life at the place, it may never have existed.  Like all ghost towns, Wootan Wells has its legends and myths.

 

 

 

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Page Modified: 17 August 2014

                                                                        

 


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