To complete this series of articles about mineral springs, it is important to include “The Fountain of Health” at Harris Springs.
To do so, we must just barely step across the Randolph-Monroe county line between Moberly and Middle Grove. That’s where we’ll find traces of Harris Springs, which was situated on Milligan Creek. The historical information for this article was taken from “Middle Grove, Missouri: Our Place in Time,” which was published in 1988.
Thomas T. Harris, owner of the property, discovered three springs there in 1886. He contacted the University of Missouri to test and analyze the spring water. It was determined to be as fine as any mineral water that was found in the spas of Europe. Health spas were already at Eureka, Hot Springs, Eldorado, Randolph Springs and Elk Lick.
Harris opened his health resort and built a 20-room hotel in late 1886. Word soon got around of the water’s medicinal values, with people coming from miles and miles around. These mineral waters were said to cure anything that ailed you — from chills, kidney trouble, dyspepsia, scrofula, neuralgia, rheumatism, constipation, and piles to diabetes, nervous prostration and paralysis.
Early on, the owner ran into some financial trouble, and the property was sold at the courthouse in Paris in May 1887.
The hotel and 80 acres was purchased by Adams Givens of Moberly for about $3,000. He leased the hotel and quickly resumed operations. Unfortunately, the hotel and its contents burned to the ground in January 1889. It was partially insured.
The health resort, despite its hardships the first three years, went on to prosper. A much bigger and fancier hotel of 34 rooms was built by Centralia investors in the early 1900s from lumber bought and shipped here from the buildings of the Saint Louis World’s Fair. It was transported by rail to Evansville, about four miles north of the springs, and then hauled on wagons to the building site.
Mr. and Ms. R.A. Daniel, managers of the new hotel, kept the business going for many years. Their granddaughter, Connie Hulen McCormick Dameron, recalled her memories of Harris Springs with the late Wilbur Carpenter and Doris Thornburg Carpenter, who contributed the following recollections:
“Life was interesting for a little girl of seven and her four year old brother, Ralph, who lived at Harris Springs from 1910 to about 1919. Connie remembered the weekends when people would come from all around and fill the hotel. She said her grandmother was such a good cook, and the dining room was always filled on Sunday with people from Moberly. Her pastry cook was Alma (Swinny) Watson.
“She remembered the hotel having 34 rooms. There was a hall which ran through the middle of the lower floor. There were three big bathrooms on one side of that hall. The bathrooms had tubs in them and metal tanks hung near the ceiling. These tanks would be filled by a pump located outside with the healthful mineral water. The bather pulled a chain, and the water filled the tub.
“Connie remembered the crap games that were held outside. Men brought their lanterns and blankets for overnight games. Connie and her brother would search the area the next day for coins that might have strayed off the blankets.
“The dances, which were held in the pavilion, were always fun. There would be three sets going at a time. One of the musicians she remembered was the late Harold Barr of Moberly. He was talented and could play several instruments. The fellows in the band would offer Connie a quarter to sing for the crowd.”
The hotel employed many local people, both black and white, at this fine establishment, such as cleaning ladies, maids, wash ladies, cooks, dishwashers, maintenance men and groundskeepers, along with those who bottled the mineral water that was sold to patrons and distributed all over the United States.
Food was locally grown or brought in, much being needed to feed the many guests. Beef, pork, mutton, fish and game birds, bought locally, were served in many delicious ways. Pies, pastries and breads were baked daily. Milk and butter were purchased daily. Storage was needed for the extra meat, thus creating a need for an ice house and smokehouse. Wood was also needed for the cook stoves and for heating the many rooms in cold weather.
There were several bath houses behind the hotel, along with outside toilets.
A livery stable was located north of all the other buildings. Horses were stabled and fed there, buggies were parked close by and harnesses were hung, ready to use. Several men were needed to take care of feeding, shoeing and shoveling. Feed for the horses was bought from the local farmers.
Between the hotel and the barn was where the dance pavilion stood, with a roof and open sides. Men from surrounding towns shared in the music-making for the different dances.
Not far from the dance pavilion was the small store with provisions for the campers and picnickers. Along with all the buildings, there were also picnic grounds, campgrounds, a ball diamond, a polo field, a bag swing over the creek, swimming, horseshoes, croquet, an ice skating rink, and other sports and games of those days. Once a biplane landed in the field and gave $5 rides!
Across the creek going south were several summer cottages with three rooms for those who wished to stay for several days or weeks. Several homes were located up and down the road, and a few were used as boarding houses.
World War I brought about changes for everyone. Transportation went from horse and buggy to new-fangled automobiles. The medicinal values of the mineral water were obsolete. New cures for various ailments were being found through modern medicine. Harris Springs had reached its peak and outlived its time.
The Centralia company went bankrupt in 1919, and all the buildings were taken down and the lumber sold. All that was left were the foundation pillars of the hotel and, of course, the three springs. The last big picnic held at Harris Springs was the Grange Picnic in August 1921, with the largest crowd ever assembled at the springs.
In 1988, the foundation pillars were still standing, barely visible from the road, being overgrown with trees. A pasture for cattle was where the other buildings stood. Standing on the road looking over the original site, a person can use their imagination and see and hear all the merrymaking at “The Fountain of Health.” My, what a wonderful time they must have had!
Next week: “Moberly’s 1st Automobile.”
If you enjoy learning about our local colorful history, then you’ll want to pick up a copy of the recently published, 402-page “Moberly 150” book. It is now on sale at the Sesquicentennial Headquarters, 209 North Clark, Moberly. Hours are Monday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Thursday 1 to 3 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Additional copies can also be purchased at the Chamber of Commerce, Kids Caboose, Glenn’s Garage Doors, Modernistic Beauty Salon, Bob’s Butcher Shop and Changes Hair Studio.