Robertson County
Texas

 

 

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County Coordinator is Jane Keppler.

County Co-Coordinator is Jean Huot Smoorenburg


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W O O T A N   W E L L S

 

The following excerpt is taken from A History Of Robertson County, Texas, by John Walter Baker, copyright 1970, by the Robertson County Historical Foundation, pages 415 425.  

The fifth edition of A History Of Robertson County is available for purchase through the Robertson County Historical Foundation. This well written, 560-page, hard cover book is a "must have" for people researching Robertson County and its families (sample chapters on New Baden & Wootan Wells).  Contact clazhome@msn.com to make purchase arrangements (including credit card sales).

(as of this date 11/01/2014, this book may not be available)

When railway employees moved away from Bremond in 1872, former businessmen turned to farming.

Reconstruction was ending and the Texas frontier was gone.  Travel by railway was convenient and people were moving about seeking opportunities for an improved life.  Among the interesting fads of the day was the operation of mineral water bath houses.

In that time Wootan Wells appeared.  The moving spirit was Francis Marion Wootan, who came to Texas in 1872, stopped for a time in Bremond, and in March 1873, purchased 51 1/2 acres of land from John Coleman Roberts, for the purpose of farming.  Wootan moved with his family to the land in 1874.

After four years of cotton farming, Wootan dug a well to supply his family and livestock with water.  In the spring of 1878, he drew a sample of the water for examination.

When Mrs. Wootan washed dishes, the plates turned a bright yellow, and on the following day, she washed clothes and the garments turned red.  The mysterious chemical reaction in the water fascinated Francis Wootan.

Farmer Wootan drew a sample and sent it to Dr. W. M. Mew, a U. S. Navy chemist, and the doctor forwarded it to Professor C. F. Chambler in New York.  The analysis ended with the following sentence:  "The water contains several minerals making it suitable for drinking and for baths in a health resort."

Instantly, the Wootan Farm became valuable.  Rumors spread that people had gone to the well when very sick and after consuming the water, "became whole again."  The demand for small plats of land grew and Mr. Wootan accommodated buyers, dividing most of the land over-and-over again, until there were several hundred owners of parcels of the original farm.

In 1880, Wootan formed a partnership with T. W. Wade, who organized a company for the purpose of bottling the water and converting the place into a modern town.  His purpose was to make the hill a health resort.  The company, then called The Wootan Wells Company, built a bottling plant and for a dozen years the enterprise prospered and the population of the area grew.

In 1881, promoter Wade proposed the development of the area into a health haven of hotels, cottages, stores, and entertainment features.  Within months, three additional wells were dug, and four hotels were built.  The promoter also built a mule-drawn train and railways "to take water to the main line and bring visitors to the resort."

The promotion of the resort was an instant success.  In 1883, the company had four stockholders:  T. W. Wade, R. H. Wade, William McKinney, and Francis M. Wootan.  Wade then supervised the building of two long rows of cottages, a large dance pavilion, additional bath houses, and the spa became the most fashionable in the state.

By 1890, Wootan Wells was known by people in all parts of the nation.  There were more than 200 permanent residents, and the summer population exceeded 2,000.  The Texas business directory reported:  "Wootan Wells derives its name from the celebrated wells located there which have gained an enviable reputation through the country."

People from many states came to the spa.  Guest took rooms in the hotels and young and old alike bathed in the water.  They danced to the music of a Mexican band, and rode the mule-drawn train.  Western Union built a station and Wells Fargo took charge of shipping water over the nation.  People came by passenger train to the junction of the main lines and some came by wagons and carriages.

F. M. Wootan was the first postmaster.  Before 1900, there were over thirty business establishments, including offices of six physicians.  G. H. Higginbotham had a billiard and games concession, A. S. Lane operated a general merchandise store, William Goodwin was a wagon maker, Edward McGlaun ran a grist mill, and Willis Martin was the part-time operator of the Willis mule train.

A. C. Walker went to the resort in 1883, and remained until 1894, as the operator of a store.  He moved to Bremond in 1895.

Mrs. C. C. Hill, daughter of J. W. Turner, who spent a week at the Wootan Hotel in 1884, wrote that the town was a place of "roaring fun."  Wootan Wells was spread out among pretty trees and there were cottages surrounding the hotels and bath houses.  In the spring and summer, life picked up and thousands of people registered at the wells.

Willis Martin, when interviewed in 1950, said:

"I attended dances at the pavilion and parties at the hotel.  I remember Governor Hogg and his daughter, Ima, and the people who gathered to greet them.  They were wonderful, friendly people."

The men enjoyed riding fine horses, and women parties, games, and sing songs.  People came with plenty of money and they spent it fast.  Big dances were common and the Chataugua was attended by hundreds.  Mr. Wade once told me the place was worth over a million dollars."

 Turner Hubby, a famous Waco marksman, enjoyed the skeet shooting at the Wells.  There are accounts of horse races over the hill, fishing at Flag Lake, and drinking bouts at the local saloon which was called "Well No. 5."

Lloyd Campbell, who lived with his mother in the Sumner House, remembered 1899, and the flood that made the western side of Robertson County a "shallow sea."

"It rained sixteen inches and the buildings at the Wells were severely damaged.  The water remained for two months and when it receded, it left gorge-like holes and all the roads to and from the place were gone."

Ralph Wade said the flood cost the company a half million dollars to restore the resort.

Mrs. Fay Bailey Albritton, the granddaughter of Frances Wootan, wrote some of her memories of the town.  Her father, J. P. Bailey, drove the mule care in 1883.

"The Company got in debt because of depressions, the flood, droughts, and my grandfather sold his interest in the enterprise and moved to Bremond.  In 1903, mineral water was discovered in Marlin, just fifteen miles to the north, and thereafter, the new place drew people from the old Wells that were not as they had been in former years.  On August 1, 1906, Wootan Wells was sold to Ralph Wade by the stockholders and by 1909, Wade was unable to pay for the property.  D. M. Prendergast, who held first mortgage against it, demanded that it be sold at auction in Franklin.  At the auction from the courthouse steps, Prendergast bought the resort for $10,000.00 because he was the highest bidder."

Through the first decade of the twentieth century, the Wells continued to be a place of interest, then "things began to happen."  The first sign of the end was the destruction of one of the large hotels by fire, then the original bath house over Well No. 1 burned.  In 1902, workmen cleared the burned material away and "a good number of people came in the summer of 1903."

A military company was stationed at Wootan Wells for a week in 1903.  It was the "Roberts Rifles," Company E, Texas 2nd Infantry that had been organized by Roy Hearn in 1900.  Webb Hearn and John T. Atkinson were officers in the company.  "(Roy Hearn was later Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard.)  Fifty Bremond men took part in the drills on the famous camp grounds.

Mrs. E. A. Murel and Marion Cummings wrote about the decline of the spa.  Mrs. Muriel wrote:  "The Wootan Wells Company struggled to regain its high position after 1910, but good times did not return."  In financial difficulty, the operator sought to rebuild by borrowing more money but this, too, failed for the old place "seemed doomed."

Marion Cummings wrote:  "Large hotels burned, then another fire, and another.  Parties and dances were no more.  Shows that came in other years did not return.  An effort to sell lots for homes failed, and the resort declined until there was nothing left."

Dr. C. E. Mays worked hard to build the reputation of the Wells.  Through his efforts, other physicians came, including Doctors Pennick, Spring, Powell, and the last Dr. F. W. Stoltje.  A letter from W. S. Hammond of Dallas expressed his feelings about the resort as he remembers it:

"As a youngster, my idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon was to ride the mule car over to Wootan Wells, listen to the band play, and watch the crowds.  I used to hear the visitors talk about Wootan Wells becoming as an European spa, and decided then and there I would see all these spas Wootan Wells was like; thus Wootan Wells was one of the spas I had to cause me to travel all over the world several times.  I have seen all the spas, but Wootan Wells still stands out in my memory as the greatest."

The facilities of Wootan Wells were spread over 200 acres and worth more than a million dollars at one time.  The place to which seekers of health and entertainment came is now pastureland.  The same oak trees are there.  The area that was a park slopes gently from the site of abandoned wells.  The place is quartered by intersecting highways over which fast-moving automobiles pass.  Registered cattle graze the grasses that stand above the ruins of sanitariums and bath houses.

The ghost town, Wootan Wells, was indeed a part of Bremond's history.

There are stories of gold buried in bottles, and bottles and jugs more precious than god, buried in the hill.  At one time, a full load of bottles was dumped in the creek near the park where they were covered by the waters of the flood of 1899.  The old bottles and jugs, if found, would be a bonanza for persons interested in antiques of value.

On a fall evening in 1921, a horseman riding from the Brazos River saw smoke rising from the prairie west of Bremond.  The rider galloped to the site and there he saw old Wootan Wells disintegrate in flames.  The smoke curled skyward and flames shot high over the skeleton structures aflame.  The viewed could hear the breaking bottles and jugs and the explosion of oil drums along the streets.

The flames spread from the dry grass on the prairie to the Park Hotel.  The railroad depot followed, and the fire swept the stately Jackson Hotel and the cottages nearby.  Before morning, the Wootan Hotel was gone as was the Sumner House, the pavilion, and every bath house and sanitarium on the grounds.  Thereafter, the resort that had boasted a summer population of over 2,000, was a ghost town.

On November 30, 1969, forty-five years after the last evidence of the existence of Wootan Wells perished in flames, six hundred people gathered for the dedication of an historical marker.  A tent was placed near the site of the old bottling works from which point they could see the beauty of the land that attracted visitors long ago.

Historic marker inscription 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."  [For additional information on this marker, go to Texas Historical Commission Information On This Marker.]

 

 

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State Coordinator: Shirley Cullum
Assistant State Coordinators: Carla Clifton, Jane Keppler

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Page Modified: 01 November 2014

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