America's Haven of Health
Discovered by accident, Travis Mellion, a black farmer, is credited with the discovery of Siloam Spring's medicinal value. According to historical records, the event happened in 1880 when the valley was still covered by a wheat field. Jas. L. Farris, an attorney from Richmond, with some friends, was camped near where Siloam Spring is located while hunting and fishing in the area.
Mellion lived upstream, near where the old Isley school building is located, with his family. One of his daughters suffered from a severe case of scrofula (a form of tuberculosis). Mellion visited the Farris camp where he told them of his daughter's affliction and how he had tried the advice of a number of physicians without relief.
Farris had noticed that residents in the valley steered clear of the water which oozed out of the bank near the river because of the yellow rusty track it left in its path. Half jokingly, he insinuated to Mellion that "it ought to be good for something" and suggested that it would do no harm to try it.
A jug of water was taken to Mellion's home, and his afflicted daughter, Opal, was given of it to drink. Some of the water was also heated and used for bathing. This was continued for several days and within the days there was marked improvement in Opal's condition. Inside of a few weeks, she was completely cured.
A log-cabin farmer, Frederick Kugler, living on the hillside not far from the spring, began to treat his rheumatic knees and a running sore on his leg caused by an old Civil War gunshot wound. Again recovery occurred and word spread of the two incidents, thus Excelsior Springs as "America's Haven of Health" was born.
During an early stage of the excitement, A.W. Wyman, owner of the spring, realized its possibilities and the opportunity to dispose of some of his land. He came in contact with Rev. J.V.B. Flack, a Missouri City minister and to him he unfolded his plan. After investigating the widespread tales of cures, Dr. Flack was convinced that the new "find" was worthy of recognition. He advised Wyman to have the land platted, the water analyzed, and, to further spread news of the cures by advertising.
In cooperation with leading members of the community, Dr. Flack started work. He had the first analysis made and the report of Wright and Merrill, St. Louis chemists, revealed that the water contained minerals, justifying expectations of curative results. Four forked poles were driven in the bank of the Fishing River on which a covering was laid of brush. A five-gallon keg was sunk in the ground with one end removed, buried in the clay to catch the precious water for those who came. At this time, the river bank was a tangle of luxuriant vines and weeds, in part torn and trampled around the spring. From Longfellow's much quoted poem, he named the spring "Excelsior", later changed to Siloam.
Along the same pretty little river about a half-mile southwest of "Excelsior", a strong flowing spring, surrounded by towering oaks, sugar maples, elms and other varieties of forest trees, had attracted the attention of Captain J.L. Farris, the attorney from Richmond. He had an analysis made and, as the result, another mineral spring was discovered. Captain Farris named the spring "Empire", later changed to Regent.
Then came more springs, the most prominent of them being Relief, Superior and Saratoga. By 1881 a pump was installed within a small, wooden pavilion at Siloam. Steps from Broadway and the first hotel to the west, the Excelsior, were constructed. A simple wooden bridge was built from the spring over Fishing River to an undeveloped penisula used for rest and relaxation. No town in Missouri had ever grew more rapidly in the ensuing twelve months than Excelsior Springs.
Discovery continued on the types of waters that Excelsior Springs offered. The internationally known Dr. W.P. Mason, professor of analytical chemistry at Rennselaer Institute, Troy, New York, was retained to analyze the waters. His report revealed in the Siloam and Regent waters the association of bicarbonates of iron and manganese -- a combination so rare that it is only found in four springs in all Europe and Excelsior Springs possessed the only two commercially known in the United States.
The rarity of having 20 separate mineral springs bubbling out four distinct varieties of water has given Excelsior Springs the rightful claim of having the world's greatest group of mineral waters. The particularly unusual feature of the distinguished group lies in the fact that it includes two of the six world's known iron-manganese springs. Other types are classified as Saline-Sulpher, Soda-Bicarbonate and Calcic-Bicarbonate, the latter being generally known as Lithia. Watering place resorts rarely possess more than one type of water treatment -- mineral water baths. In Excelsior Springs there were four types of treatment with water of tonic, alterative and eliminative value and the mineral water baths.
International attention was directed to the young American resort at the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893 when medals were awarded Regent spring iron-manganese water and Soterian ginger ale. State and national organizations were quick to recognize Excelsior Springs as an ideal convention city.
In 1933, legislation was approved so that Excelsior Springs could petition the U.S. Government for a loan and grant through the Public Works Administration. The loan and grant was approved and certified by the supreme court of Missouri in 1935. The project called for the city to buy the main mineral water springs and for the construction of the Hall of Waters and piping of the waters to the bottling facilities within. From 1936 to 1938, architects Keene & Simpson, along with Erwin Pfhul, structural engineer and W.L. Cassell, mechanical engineer, and Hare & Hare, landscape architects, created the plans for the Hall of Waters. The plans for the Mineral Water Development system was placed in the hands of Black & Veatch, consulting engineers in Kansas City.
The Hall of Waters was built over the present Siloam and Sulpho-Saline springs. Art Deco style architecture on the interior and exterior was chosen as in keeping with the Mayan Indian tradition relating to water and water gods. Architecturally, the $1 million Hall of Waters is significant as the most ambitious project to have been undertaken by the Federal Public Works Administration in Missouri. It is the location of the world's longest mineral water bar, and at the time it was built, dispensed more types of water than at any other location on earth. The Hall of Waters was placed on the Clay County Historical Landmark Register in 1981 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 9, 1983.
For more about park history, visit our individual park pages, accessible here.
For more about our historic driveway system, click here.
Greater Excelsior Springs Centennial produced by the Excelsior Springs Chamber of Commerce; America's Haven of Health, Excelsior Springs, Missouri's National Health Resort, A History of the Mineral Water Springs and Wells, published by the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives; research of Sonya Morgan, theidlehour.com; Hall of Waters photo by Kevin T. Morgan.
Anthony Wyman, owner of the land where the Siloam spring was founded and the Hall of Waters stands today, was born in Henry County, Kentucky, in 1838. He came with his family to Missouri in 1874. Upon discovery of Siloam spring, he laid out his fields in lots and sold them to newcomers at reasonable prices, then invested the proceeds in improving the springs and in contributing to the comfort of invalids. The first school was erected and named in his honor. Elizabeth street in downtown Excelsior Springs is named for his wife.
J.V.B. Flack, D.D.
Dr. John Van Buren Flack was born in Holmes County, Ohio, May 12, 1840. John was educated at Holmes University and began preaching at the age of 21. He was very successful as a circuit preacher and soon took front rank as a pulpit orator and revivalist. In the early years, Flack was nicknamed "Boy Preacher." He came to Missouri in 1870, settling in Haynesville, which is now Holt. In 1880, Flack heard tell of the miraculous powers of the spring water that A.W. Wyman possessed on his property. He came to Excelsior Springs and entered into an agreement with Wyman to market the water. He erected the first dry goods business and founded the Christian Union church. He also established three newspapers, conducted a drug business, a real estate business, and at all times served as pastor from three to five local churches. He advertised the waters extensively and wherever he went, he let the people know of the curative power of the waters of Excelsior Springs. Marietta street in downtown Excelsior Springs is named for his wife.
Below are the city-owned water wells and springs, ten of which where piped to the Hall of Waters.
Excelsior Salt Saline Well
One of two wells located in a building on the current Community Center parking lot, in the 200 block of South Thompson Avenue.
Jones Soda Well
421 East Excelsior Street.
Lithia #1 Well
This well was located at 245 East Broadway.
Park Spring & Well
Located in the Fishing River Linear Park, this well provides most of the lithia (calcium) water dispensed at the Hall of Waters Water Bar.
An iron manganese spring just south of the Elms Resort.
The second well located in a building on the current Community Center parking lot, in the 200 block of South Thompson Avenue.
Salt Sulphur Spring & Well
The water from this deep well, at the end of North Main Street, was pumped into the Hall of Waters.
This spring is actually located under the north steps of the Hall of Waters, and produces iron manganese water.
Sulpho-Saline Well & Pavilion
This deep well was found at the end of North Main Street, and its waters were sold from its pavilion in what is now the north plaza area of the Hall of Waters.
Sunnyside (Park Spring)
This was in the park on North Kansas City Avenue.
Superior Springs Wells & Pagoda
The iron-manganese water from these wells were available at the pagoda, which still stands just south of Roosevelt Avenue, in the Fishing River Linear Park.
White Sulphur Spring
These waters were pumped into the Hall of Waters for its swimming pool. The well is still located behind the Church of Christ on Isley Boulevard.