Thursday, December 22, 2016

The healing waters of Lacona --- and Swede Hollow

Next time you're headed home to Chariton from Indianola the back way, driving south toward Lacona on blacktop maybe three-four miles northwest of that pretty Warren County town, glance up the valley to your right as you cross Wolf Creek at the base of a big hill. Try to envision a giant spa hotel along the creek somewhere there back in the woods.

Had Danley Johnson's (or Johnston's) dreams of the early 1870s come true, it would have been built there to capitalize on the healing properties of the Lacona Mineral Spring. The map shows the location of Johnson's wood lot, where the spring reportedly was located.

A little closer to home, inspired by Danley's find, William Gillaspey announced to Lucas Countyans that he had a similar spring out in Swede Hollow --- that its water water was stronger and the curious were welcome to haul it away by the barrel full. That's William's tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery at left. He died on Sept. 28, 1881, at the relatively young age of 66, perhaps having failed to drink enough of his own water.

These watery dreams were short-lived and hopes based on them drained away during a cold Iowa winter, but for a time during the fall of 1872 there was considerable excitement about their potential in this neck of the woods.


The excitement was noted first in The Chariton Patriot, which picked up and republished a brief report from The Knoxville Voter in its edition of Nov. 6, 1872. The editor of The Voter was a little confused, however. He located the spring near Newbern instead of Lacona. Couldn't spell either --- "Newbern" came out "Newburn." Here's his report:

The (Knoxville) Voter says: A most wonderful mineral spring has been discovered on Coal Creek, near Newburn, which is reported to possess healing properties in a high degree. Already quite a number of persons have tried its waters as a healing medium, and with results of the most satisfactory nature. In its composition are to be found iron, alum, soda, sulphur, oil, etc., and its waters act upon the whole system. Even asthma, the most tenacious of disease, gives way to its cure. Chlorate of potassa turns its waters blue; tannic-acid, red.

Another news item in that edition of The Patriot, this one plucked from The Osceola Sentinel, clarified the situation a little:

Clarke County --- Elder N.E. Cory has just returned to Osceola from Newburn (sic), Marion county, where he held a two weeks meeting with good results. Fifteen joined the church and a good interest was awakened. While absent, the elder visited the newly discovered "mineral springs" near Lacona, Warren county. Mr. Cory informs the Sentinel that, while in California, one year ago, he visited the celebrated mineral springs of that State, and that the Warren county springs are very similar to the California springs. The ingredients are iron, alum, soda, &c., and the water is said to cure rheumatism, asthma, liver complaint and other like diseases. Large numbers of the people are visiting these springs daily, and several tents, containing invalids, are now pitched in the vicinity.

So now we knew for sure that the healing springs were nearer to Lacona than Newbern. You had a preacher's word for that, more reliable obviously than a newspaper editor's.

During the next week, inspired by the report from Warren County, Swede Hollow's Bill Gillaspey brought in a bottle of water from a spring on his farm for The Patriot editor to taste and this was duly reported upon in his issue of Nov. 12:

Wm. Gillaspie, four miles northwest of town, has a mineral spring on his farm. He claims that the water is similar in taste to that from the Lacona spring, only his is stronger. The Lacona water contains iron, alum, soda, sulphur, &c., and acts directly on the liver, kidneys, and the system generally. Mr. Gillaspie has furnished us with a bottle of the water and we find it not unpleasant to the taste; alum seems to predominate. We doubt not but what medical properties are to be found in this water.

Additional clarity was provided in a report published on Page 1 of The Patriot on Christmas day, 1872, which consisted largely  of an earlier report plucked from The Albia Union and reprinted:

B.F. Proctor of Lacona lately called on the Albia Union, and gave the following interesting information in reference to the mineral spring, heretofore mentioned in The Patriot.

The spring is situated on Wolf creek, two miles and a half north of Lacona, a village in White Breast township, in the southeast corner of Warren county, on a timber lot belonging to Danley Johnson, a well-to-do farmer residing in the neighborhood. The medical properties of the water were discovered sometime last summer in the following manner:

Some men were quarrying rock near by, and an old man who had been for several years disabled by rheumatism was there looking on. Becoming thirsty he drank pretty freely from the spring which was nearer the quarry than the other springs along the creek, though the water had an unpleasant taste, being almost as sour as a lemon. In a short time after drinking, he became so sick that he was afraid he was poisoned. He was taken home where he went to bed and to sleep. When he awoke next morning he was so much relieved of his rheumatism that he concluded to take some more of the sour water. He did so and continued to use it for a few weeks, when it seemed to have effected a complete cure of his malady and he was able to go to work for the first time within several years.

The fame of the healing waters soon spread abroad in the region and other invalids were induced to try its efficacy, among whom was our informant, Mr. Proctor, who had been disabled by rheumatism for two years, and all were benefitted.

In a short time invalids began to come from every direction and erect tents near the spring where they lived until cured or greatly relieved. Others sent wagons with barrels to haul the water to them and before cold weather set in, the roads leading to the spring were more used than any others in that part of the county.

The water comes out of a clay bank of the creek, and a lump of clay as large as the double fist will impregnate a large bucketful of water from any well with the medical properties of the water of the spring.

Mr. Johnson refuses to sell the property; but intends to put up a large hotel or hospital near the spring in case the water continues to prove effeacious in curing diseases.

Wm. Gillaspie, four miles north of Chariton, has a spring on his farm, the water of which is similar in taste to the Lacona water, being, however, a litle stronger. Mr. G. invites any desirous of testing or tasting to give him a call, and they can have it by the barrel full.

This was the last report I could find related to mineral springs in Warren and Lucas counties and it may just be that "cures" effected in the fall did not continue through a cold Iowa winter or the locations were too remote.


Elsewhere in Iowa, however, excitement about mineral springs continued, even though the Hawkeye State was not so richly blessed with these natural wonders as other states.

In 1886 a "List and Analysis of the Mineral Springs of the United States" appeared in a special U.S. Department of the Interior bulletin, using data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. Thirty-three were listed in Iowa, including both natural springs and flee-flowing artesian wells that had been drilled into an aquifer where sufficient pressure existed to drive the water to the surface.

Among those noted, close to home, were Ottumwa Medical Springs and the Iowa Acid Spring near Eddyville, both in Wapello County; the Prospect Park Mineral Spring in Des Moines; and Big Spring, down in Wayne County. No mention of Lucas or Warren counties here.

The granddaddy of Iowa mineral springs, at Colfax in Jasper County east of Des Moines, was noted however. Here, a giant spa hotel indeed was built and thousands arrived as the 19th century turned into the 20th to take the cure. In addition, Colfax Mineral Springs water was shipped across the country. The industry has by now gone down the drain and the hotel no longer stands. But Colfax continues to celebrate Mineral Spring Days.

Opportunity never bubbled forth down here in Warren and Lucas counties, but, who knows? Perhaps the cure for nearly everything still is flowing somewhere out there in Swede Hollow or north of Lacona --- if you know where to look.

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