Hidden History: Mineral Springs gush healing waters at Carbondale-area sanitarium – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Mineral Springs gush healing waters at Carbondale-area sanitarium

A painting of the Mineral Springs Hotel, donated by the Jungmann family, hangs in the Osage County Historical Society museum, in Lyndon.

The Carbondale area was once home to Mineral Springs, a health resort that drew the attention of locals and others from far beyond the boundaries of the county that wanted to receive health benefits promoted by its proprietor. The resort, located about a mile north of the town, was founded by a man named Moses “M.D.” Merrill. Merrill’s Mineral Springs would go on to become a refuge for many seeking healing for more than 25 years.

M.D. Merrill purchased his land just north of modern-day Carbondale in 1859, a year after coal was discovered in the area. At the time, however, Merrill was living in Rock Island, Illinois, as a prosperous former land agent, newspaper editor, and railroad man. It wasn’t until 1884 that he moved to the north side of Carbondale and made use of springs located beneath his land. Local lore indicated that Merrill’s springs were located on an Indian camping spot, where they constructed dams across the beautiful stream flowing from the spring, calling this fount, “medicine water”. Merrill did not immediately realize the benefit that these waters held, however.

Within two years of his arrival, Merrill decided to find out the truth of the healing aspects of his springs and sought out the expert opinion of Dr. Albert Merrill, reportedly unrelated, of St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Merrill analyzed the water and reported that the water contained purgative salts that could be utilized in treating digestive disorders.

M.D. Merrill seized the opportunity to bring the healing waters to the public and started selling his water for curative purposes locally and shipping orders as far as New York. For a time, there were as many as 100 visitors per day to the springs coming in “vehicles of every description, from the barouche and road wagon to the typical Mexican burro, loaded with kegs, cans, big jugs, and little jugs to be filled with those marvelous waters”, as reported by the Carbondalian. The spring water was also sold and delivered at 15 cents a gallon by the Cooke Fuel Company, of Topeka, which also sold Osage County coal.

Merrill’s establishment in Osage County came during a period of expansion and growth for cities across the nation. With the inclusion of the railroads and the increase of population, towns were seeking ways to build industry and commerce even to the extent of bringing in unique services such as health resorts. These health resorts were given the name sanitarium, a new English word created in the 19th century as a spin on sanitorium, which had meant a more hospital-like atmosphere.

M.D. Merrill had an idea of what he expected in a resort; he had stayed at John H. Kellogg’s renowned sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, not long after it opened. Four years after he moved to Carbondale, Merrill sought to bring together the atmosphere of the Battle Creek sanitarium with additional comforts of home in creating the resort and hotel at Mineral Springs.

Merrill’s son-in-law and daughter, Charles and Ella Hawley, built a hotel on the site called the Hawley House. The Hawley House was started in 1888 with anticipation to take advantage of the summer traffic, but was not completed until the fall. Merrill and the Hawleys contracted with S. J. Collins to build the hotel for a cost of $10,000 (or nearly $260,000 today). S. J. Collins was also a former resident of Rock Island, Illinois, and more recently Rush Center, Kansas, and had just completed plans for the Rush County courthouse there.

Hawley House was designed to be three stories tall, and proclaimed to have a commanding view of the Wakarusa River valley. It was comfortable, airy and inviting, outfitted in the latest styles available. The accompanying bath house was separated by a division for the sexes and furnished with six tubs also of the newest style. On site was a large barn that would hold numerous carriages and had 20 stalls for horses.

For the hotel’s grand opening, large flags were special ordered from Chicago, a 10-foot flag to stand over the spring and a 20-foot flag to wave over the hotel. The hotel’s guests were treated to a family style meal with their stay. Prices for the resort varied from $7 to $10 per week, depending on the location of the guests’ choice of the 36 available rooms.

Mrs. Ella Swallow, clipping from the Topeka Daily Capital, Sunday, July 31, 1921.

After his daughter and son-in-law moved to Topeka, Merrill looked for someone to assist with the hotel and resort operations. In 1891, he hired an African-American man, Professor Brand, to be an on-staff barber and run the bath house. Prof. Brand reportedly had extensive experience and recently worked at a hot springs resort in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Merrill also contracted with a young couple, Dr. Hiram H. Swallow and his wife Ella, to run the hotel and assist with treatments. Merrill died the following year and was buried in Rock Island, Illinois.

For a time, the Swallows managed the hotel and kept an office over D. S. Doel’s Racket Store in Carbondale. Under the oversight of the Hawley’s, the hotel had established itself as a refuge for many a distinguished guest seeking healing of the body, but under the stewardship of the Swallows, it created another kind of atmosphere for healing. Dr. and Mrs. Swallow continued that practice, but offering assistance to all those in need, showing what the Topeka Daily Capital called a  “singular love for the poor, young and old … helping the helpless and extending the comforting hand to the unfortunate who had hit rough spots in the road and had found himself down and out.”

The Swallows had two children of their own, but during their tenure in Carbondale took in more than 40 children, including orphans and other children from families too large to support them. Their hotel welcomed women weary from life and boys weary from road travel. Not a person was turned away.

During the summers, the beautiful grove at the Mineral Springs property was a place for children to play. Community events were held at the grove. Emancipation Day celebrations were held there, resulting in the biggest celebrations of that event in Kansas. In addition to the summer traffic that still flowed in for the healing waters of the springs, the site was an increasingly important part of the Carbondale community.

While physical and emotional healing occurred for visitors that came to the Mineral Springs grounds, Ella Swallow was plagued by attacks of rheumatism for years. Neither her husband nor the healing waters of Merrill Springs were able to cure her. She found her remedy from an alternate source, though. For years, Ella wore a black beaded rosary around her neck. If she felt an attack of rheumatism coming on, she would place the rosary on her ankles before she went to bed and would wake feeling relief.

The resort was a hub of activity until the Swallows moved to Topeka in 1914, sustained by the thriving community with access to rail traffic and paved streets that were lit with electricity. Even after their move, the Swallows continued to provide refuge to all those who entered their home, and the Mineral Springs’ grove was still a place of gathering for the community.

The next caretakers of the Mineral Springs hotel were the Jungmann family. William Jungmann had done much restoration on the aging building, contracted by the Hawley family that were now living in the East. Arrangements were made for Bill and his family to take possession of the property and maintain it, which they did for 12 years. The building then stood vacant for a period and was last occupied by the Owen Boyer family and Mickey the talking pet pig, who moved into the main building in 1936 and used it as a family home for a number of years. The building was razed in 1946 and the lumber recycled for use in local buildings.

The property was then developed as a trailer court that used the springs as its water source. While remnants of the trailer court still exist, the area is now the location of several private residences.

Photo of a painting of the Mineral Springs Hotel, donated by the Jungmann family, that hangs in the Osage County Historical Society museum, in Lyndon. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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