Berthoudites soothed their rheumatism at Excelsior Springs

By Mark French

The Surveyor

It wasn’t the mineral waters at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, that ailing Berthoudites sought in the early 1900s; it was the healing springs at Excelsior Springs, Missouri. In 1907 Berthoud’s Harrison K. Hankins, O.J. Smith, and F.M. Waggener each traveled by train to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, for a soak to benefit their health. “Uncle Dick” Hubbell, a former Berthoud sheep-feeder and general store owner was also seen there by Hankins who reported Hubbell’s sighting to the Berthoud Bulletin.

Photo from the Colorado Daily Chieftain, June 22, 1893.
Sulpho-Saline Laxative Water was bottled by the Excelsior Springs Company and marketed to cure constipation, headache and all liver troubles. Advertisement from Colorado Daily Chieftain, June 22, 1893

Upon Hankins’ arrival back in Berthoud in May 1907 the local newspaper reported that he “returned Tuesday from Excelsior Springs, Missouri, where he had been for a couple of weeks drinking the healthful waters and eating Missouri food. He gained eleven pounds in weight while there, and came home feeling fine. Uncle Dick Hubbell is also at the springs, and is receiving benefit, as so Mr. Hankins says.”

Hankins was a native of Indiana, but Smith, Waggener and Hubbell were natives of Missouri who were certainly aware of the 20 springs at that location that had a collection of medicinal mineral waters containing bicarbonates of iron and manganese. The spring water was used for bathing and bottled health tonics. 

To reach Excelsior Springs from Berthoud it is likely that the men took a Colorado & Southern train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they switched to a Union Pacific train destined for Kansas City, Missouri.  From Kansas City to Excelsior Springs they rode a train traveling the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.

It was said that Excelsior Springs was discovered in 1880 when a local farmer was told that spring water oozing from the banks of the Fishing River should be administered to his sick daughter. After there was a noticeable improvement in her health as well as the health of others, a community began to form around the spring.

The town’s first hotel was built in 1881 and by 1909—two years after the Berthoud men visited Excelsior Springs—there were 14 hotels and about 200 rooming and boarding houses in the community. The accommodations used by Hankins, Smith, Waggener, or Hubbell are not presently known.  However, in an open letter to the Berthoud Bulletin in 1922 F.M. Waggener wrote, “We reached Excelsior Springs about 5:30 p.m. Here we stopped with the Dressler family, the hanging out place for most the Berthoudites.” Presumably the Dressler family operated one of Excelsior Springs’ hotels or rooming houses.

In the beginning ailing individuals traveled to Excelsior Springs to bathe in mineral water that soothed rheumatism. Others went there to partake of Sulpho-Saline Laxative Water which was advertised to cure constipation, headaches, and liver trouble.

By the 1920s national advertising claimed that Excelsior Springs was “one of America’s most famous resorts where you can spend a delightful vacation at small cost. Golf, tennis, and all outdoor sports. Come and rest and play for a few weeks, drink the health giving waters and go back to your home rested and strengthened in body, mind and spirit.”

In 1925 the McCleary Sanitarium at Excelsior Springs boasted that their “serum-like treatment” cured piles without surgery.

On Election Day 1948, President Harry S. Truman spent the night at the Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs where he learned that he had won his re-election bid against Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey.  Today Excelsior Springs boasts a population of around 11,000 people, three historic districts, and several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Berthoud residents eventually turned their attention to nearby playgrounds like the Big Thompson and Poudre canyons. Accounts of trips to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, were seldom found in the local newspapers after 1910.

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