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Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums

Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums image
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

Between the years of 1880 and 1917 there were two successful Mineral Water Sanitariums in our city, each supplied with mineral water from local wells. In an article in The Ypsilanti Commercial of December 15, 1883, entitled: "Ypsilanti, a Review of the City and Its Industries", we read:

…The Ypsilanti Paper Company (1) completed a well on their premises for the purpose of obtaining a supply of pure water for use in the manufacture of paper. The well reached a depth of nearly 800 feet, when they struck a vein of water that had a pecnliar taste and was acknowledged to possess some medical properties. The real value of the water was not known until several very remarkable cures of cancer, rheumatism and other kindred diseases, could be traced to the effects of the water. The reputation of this mineral water spread very rapidly, and hundreds of our citizens can testify as to its beneficial effects. It became the one theme of conversation on our streets, and the demand for treatment from this water became more and more apparent every day. Our citizens became interested in the matter, and, seeing it would be a great addition to the city, offered a donation of $5,000 to any one who would start a suitable establishment where persons suffering from disease could receive treatment from this water. After due consideration the proposition was accepted by George Moorman (2) and Clark Cornwall (3). These gentlemen began the erection of a building on the eighth of last May. They have pushed its construction as fast as weather would permit. It will be ready for occupancy about the first of January, and when finished, be the finest building in this city…

In the archives of the City Museum we have the original invitation to the opening of the Ypsilanti Mineral Bath House, (Huron n. of Congress (Michigan). There were speeches given, music provided by the Ypsilanti Quartet Club and refreshments were served by the Ladies' Library Association. On January 12, 1884, The Ypsilauti Commercial carried a report of the opening ceremonies. The speeches were praised, the Ladies' of the Library Association were congratulated on the refreshments and it was proudly noted that a reporter from The Chicago Times covered the event for his paper.

Six months later Tubal Cain Owen (4) announced that he, too, had a mineral well and claimed that his “waters” had even more curative powers than that of the Cornwell-Moorman well. The fact that frequent articles concerning the mineral wells appeared in The Ypsilanti Commercial seems to point up the fact that the townspeople, particularly the business men and landlords were keenly interested in the success of the Sanitariums. For instance, on July 26, 1884, there appears yet another article, entitled, "The Mineral Wells".

…These wells are rendering Ypsilanti famous the world over. The healing waters flowing free from these wells seem destined to be an untold blessing to affected humanity…Ypsilanti has already come to be the center of attraction for the halt, the lame and the blind, the palsied and paralylics. It is by no means a crippled city, but a city of cripples. The cry is every day, ‘still they come.' Let them Come! The Hawkins House (5), the Follette House(6), the Barton (7), and all the other hotels and numerous nice boarding houses are full. Ere another season a mamoth hotel may be in the process of erection.

About this same time the paper started listing the names of those registering at the Sanitariums. Helen McAndrew (8) had water from the Owen well piped to her “Rest for the Weary” establishment on South Huron Street. The editor of the paper proudly called especial attention to the names of “guests” of the Sanitariums who came from outside the state. Tubal Cain Owen, the owner of the Forest Avenue Mineral Well, was not only a good business man but he was a wonderful promoter of his products. He erected a tall building over his derrick and in it established a factory for making soap, (“Sapon”), salts, ointments and other products of the well besides bottling hundreds of bottles and barrels of the mineral water, which he names “Atlantis”, the name being in black lettering that reached from the ground to the top of the buildind. His charged mineral water he called “Paragon”. He had various brochures prepared for the purpose of advertising his products and from one entitled, “Nature's Remedy; Natural Mineral Water From the Owen Mineral Well at Ypsilanti, Michigan and the DISEASES IT VILL CURE together with Directions for Treatment”-we read:

TO THE PUBLIC The waters of the Owen Mineral Well is on the market to fulfill its errand of mercy, and we wish every one to know just exactly what he is using, that he may use it intelligentally and rationally.

We have no myths nor Indian legends to relate to appeal to the public's credulity. We sank our well on scientific principles in search of HEALING WATERS. We use the most approved modern machinery; we believe that waters of untold value to suffering humanity were below us, and we wanted to bring them to the light of day and utilize them for their legitimate purposes. Our expectations were high, and we believe they have been fully realized. We base the claims for our water upon the medicinal value of its mineral salts as demonstrated by the actual experience and testimony of the highest authorities.

In the same brochure the treatment of cancer was outlined as follows:

The water must be taken freely, three or four glasses a day, no matter how nauseating it may be. Sponge the entire body twice a day with moderately warmed water. Apply to the affected part thick cloths saturated with the water at its natural temperature, renewing them as often as they become at all dry. After the disease shows signs of yielding, by no means cease the treatment, but continue it faithfully until the cancer is entirely healed. Beside apply the water by means of the cloths before mentioned, the diseased part should be bathed freely and frequently with the water. We cannot impress too strongly upon the mind of the patient, the absolute necessity of drinking freely of the water…

The cost of the Owen Mineral Water was as follows:


Per barrell$8.00

per half barrel4.50

10 gallon kegs3.25

Pints, per doz.$3.00

Quarts, per doz.5.00

In jugs, five gallons and under the water will be sold at the uniform price of twenty cents per gallon, and ten cents per gallon for package.

In yet another Owen brochure are listed testimonials from those cured plus a list of local people who claimed cures and the ailments of which they were cured are also listed.

Of course, the Ypsilanti Sanitarium (Occidental Hotel) also had its brochure. It was lavishly illustrated with pictures of the building and of its various rooms. The introduction to its brochure reads as follows:


Was designed especially for the rational treatment of cases which require the constant attention of competent physicians and trained nurses. The natural advantages of Ypsilanti, viz.; High altitude, picturesque wooded country, and what is of most importance, The Ypsilanti Mineral Springs, make it especially adapted for a health resort.

The thorough equipment of its laboratories for research and study and its complete departments for the treatment of various diseases make it particularly desirable for cases that cannot pratically be treated at home.

Experienced physicians and professional nurses are in constant attendance.

The Sanitarium will maintain perfectly equipped departments… From all boat lines touching Detroit, it is but a short trip. It is on the main line of the Michigan Central R. R., 45 minutes' ride from Detroit and a little over 6 hours ride from Chicago. It is the eastern terminus of the Ypsilanti branch of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern R.R. and its connecting lines viz. the Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor trolly lines. From Ann Arbor on the trolly line it is 30 minutes and from Detroit 1 hour and 30 minutes distant. On the Wabash R.R. Ypsilanti may be reached via. Belleville…

The interesting question is, why did Ypsilanti's flourishing and comparatively well known sanitariums close? An article in the Ypsilanti Press for September 9th, 1945, tells us that a Mr. J.M. Chidister ran the Occidental Hotel. and Spa for the Cornwell-Moorman group during its first years of existence. Patronage declined and the spa was closed for a time.

About 1902, however, the mineral industry was revived by Dr. C. C. Yemans, prominent Detroit physician and long time professor in the Detroit College of Medicine. He repaired the well casing, restored the baths and opened part of the old hotel. Hospital equipment was installed and rooms were renovated and furnished for patients. Old students of Dr. Yemans sent patients from all over the country and business flourished. The Hospital, long needed here was filled. However, the hotel part, separately operated was carelessly kept. Patients were admitted without Dr. Yenian's approval and neted too many dt. victims. Their yells annoyed other patients and Mrs. Yemans. That appeared to be the last straw and Dr. Yemans retired. His successor, a young man whose chief interest was in breeding fancy dogs at Mt. Clemens, spent too little time here and the whole concern soon collapsed. About the time of World War One, Tracy Towner (9), Bert Moorman (10), and others again opened the well and the baths with Dr. G. F. Clarke, Bay City, in charge. There were patients but not enough for profit and new trouble appeared when the well casing started to collapse. The cost of 220 feet of casing was considered prohibitive, and again Ypsilanti's chance of increased income and mineral water fame went glimmering…

On the decline of the Owen Mineral Sanatorium, operated by Dr. M. S. Hall, the same article states:

…To utilize the water baths, Dr. M.S. Hall put up a bath house, next each of 510 W. Forest Avenue, about two blocks from the well and fitted up the adjoining residence for a hotel. He had a large patronage for several years and amazing cures for many different diseases were reported. A out 1890 he sold the buildings to Dr. O.E. Pratt, but he because of advanced age, finally closed it and sold the buildings for residences.

After Mr. Owen's death, his son Eber, continued for many years to ship quantities of the Owen water in bulk to Chicago and Boston in response to a steady demand…

In the closing paragraph of the same article the writer attemps to explain the decline and failure of the spas thusly:-

…Just why Ypsilanti's mineral water, equal in medicinal properties to other popular resorts, failed to become a permanent municipal asset seems unexplainable. Opinions of older residents brings out two possible factors.

1. Indifference of management including too frequently insufficient regard for comfort and entertainment of patients.

2. Determination on the part of several of the more wealthy and conservative residents that Ypsilanti should remain a quiet residential community and that industry of every kind should be discouraged.

These are good and valid reasons for the failure and closing of the Sanitariums of Ypsilanti; but something happened in 1906 of nationwide importance which in all probability was the most important factor in tolling the death bell for these centers of miraculous cures. In June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act which became a law on January 1, 1907. Stewart H. Holbrook tells us in his book, The Goldern Age of Quackery that Harvey W. Wiley Chief Chemist of the United States Department of of Agriculture had been trying since 1883 to have a law passed to regulate the labeling of foods and medicines. “Tell the truth on a label”, said Wiley, and “let the consumer judge for himself.” The legislation of 1906 required honest labels. One of the prime instigators for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Law was Samuel Hopkins Adams who early in 1906 wrote a series of articles for Collier's magazine entitled, The Great American Fraud in which he ruthlessly unearthed and named concerns and people who were advertising falsely. The reading public became awakened, and perhaps terrified, when they read Hopkin's shocking exposes. Common sense forced them to realize that no quick cure salts or waters would replace medical drugs as a cure. In The New York Times for October 8th, 1966, there is a very interesting article about spas which shows that although they have gone from our section there are many still in existence in our country. But the article also points out the changes which have taken place in their make-up. The final paragraph reads:-

…Spas reached their heyday in the 19th century when their special function was as important as the therapeutic activity. Today the less severe European spas still offer operettas, concerts, balls, parties and casinos to divert guests in search of pleasure with therapy.

View an image of the Atlantis Owen Well in our Gleanings image gallery.

Note: For the most part the research material for the "Mineral Well" article was all found in the Archives of the Museum. Footnotes: 1. Ypsilanti Paper Co.-finally merged with Peninsular Paper Co. 2. George Moorman (1823–Orleans Co, Y.Y.-1895 Ypsi) Came to Ypsi. in 1853 and engaged in grocery business. 3. Clark Cornwell (1843 Foster's Mill, A.A.Twp-1903 Ypsi) Pres. Ypsi. Paper Co, School Commissioner, Alderman and Mayor 4-Tubal Cain Owen (1843-Ellery, N.Y.-1913 Ypsi) Came to Ypsi. after attending M.S.U. and engaged in milling business, acquiring interest in Ypsi. Flouring Mills and then owner of Atlantis Mineral Well. 5-Hawkins House-Congress (Mich) between Washington & Adams 6-Follette House-13 E. Cross 7 Barton House-cor. Washington & Adams. 8 Helen McAndrew (1825-Kilsyth, Scotland-1906 Ypsi) First woman M.D. in Washtenaw Co. Also interested in woman's suffrage. 9 Tracy Towner (1864-Ypsi-1943-Ypsi) Local lawyer-Mayor 1910–12 10-Bert Moorman (1856 Ypsi-1932 Ypsi) Son of G. Moorman. Pres. Moorman-Huston Co-hay and grain.

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On January 19th, 1884, shortly after the opening of the city Mineral Water House, the following poem by, “A Farmer” appeared in The Commercial

Come all ye weary, sick and sore, Who want to suffer pain no more, And take a drink of Cornwell's bore, Beside the Huron River Let Smith and Sampson keep their drugs, Fetch on your glasses and your mugs, Your barrels, bowls and your jugs, And get the healing water. If you are sick, gust try our cure, Drink Ypsilanti's water pure, That health and life may long endure, And all your friends rejoice. Moorman's put down another bore For water, gas and something more They say its better than before To drive woe and pain away. If you are sad, with sickness worn, And have the headache every more, Just come and drink a healing horn, of Ypsilanti's water. Theres forty new baths agoing, And all the healing waters flowing, Better days and health bestowing, On many a weary one. If you are growing weak and lean, Just come and try our healing stream, And splash till you are pure and clean, And your troubles washed away. They will bathe you either cold or warm, It will do you good and never harm, And it may come o'er you like a charm, And double all your joy. You need not travel far and long, To drink Saratoga's water strong, We have the real thing at home Down on the books of Moorman It's true, it has a woeful smell, But if your stomache don't rebel It's just the thing to make you well And praise up Ypsi lanti.