Mineral Wells brings back historic mineral baths

MINERAL WELLS -- Carol Elder is bringing back something that's been missing from this North Texas city for more than 40 years -- mineral baths.

In a sparsely furnished 8-foot-by-11-foot room, customers of the Famous Water Co. can sink into a 69-inch pedestal tub filled with "Crazy Water" for a sensation that hasn't been available since the historic Baker Hotel closed in 1972, Elder said.

"We kept it very therapeutic," she said. "It's just heated mineral water."

The business began offering the baths Monday.

No one could say for sure if the Baker's mineral water spa was still running in the last months of its life. But when it opened in 1929, just a month after the stock market crash, in the heart of downtown Mineral Wells, mineral bath mania was at its height.

Folks who know will explain that, without mineral water, there likely never would have been a Mineral Wells in Palo Pinto County.

The two people who discovered the water, Judge James Alvis Lynch and his wife, Armenia, founded the city, said Elder, a Mineral Wells native and historian.

“They dug the first well and were afraid to drink the water because of the smell and taste,” she said. “But when their stock drank it and didn’t die, they started drinking it, too.”

Armenia had rheumatism and James was plagued with stomach troubles, Elder said. After crediting the water when both of those conditions cleared up, the Lynches soon found more than 1,000 people camping around their place and asking to share.

“James Lynch was selling the water for 10 cents a cup,” Elder said.

A loaf of bread cost less back then.

The first mineral baths opened about the time Mineral Wells incorporated in 1882, Elder said. The baths were reputed to heal skin conditions such as eczema, and worse.

Why Crazy Water? According to legend, one of the wells became famous when what was described as a “demented elderly lady” was cured after drinking the water. The town named the well the “Crazy Woman Well,” later shortened to “Crazy Well.”

‘My skin tingled’

Minerals Wells resident Holly Burkhall got a sneak preview of the mineral water bath last week, donning her swim suit and sinking into the tub.

She gave it great reviews.

“My skin tingled a little bit on my face and neck,” she said. “I’ve just felt great all day. I haven’t had any aches or pains ... which I normally do. I’ve just felt really, wonderfully relaxed.”

The bath water “comes straight from the earth, just like the water that’s bottled,” Elder said. “It goes through a standard water heater and can be mixed to whatever temperature you want.”

Besides the bath, Elder also sells bottled mineral water, which goes for $13 to $23 per case of 1-liter bottles, depending on the water’s mineral concentration.

Labeled No. 1 to No. 4, the waters’ mineral concentrations go up as the number increases. The number scale and concentrations were established by Ed Dismuke, who opened Famous Water Co. in 1904, Elder said.

The more minerals, the stronger the taste, and, if the legend is correct, the greater the medicinal effect.

The baths run $28 for 40 minutes of soaking.

A Waco pharmacist, Dismuke was diagnosed in his early 30s with a stomach condition that a doctor said would kill him within a year, Elder said.

He heard about the mineral water’s reputation, went north to try it and then moved to Mineral Wells when his illness disappeared. He lived to be 92, and died from complications of a broken hip, Elder said.

Dismuke’s company operated almost continuously for a century — it closed briefly during a remodel in the 1980s — in the building at 209 N.W. Sixth St., Elder said. But it was a shadow of its former self 12 years ago when she and her husband, Scott, paid $50,000 for the business, the 1,600-square-foot main building and the home and outbuildings behind it.

“It was in operation, doing about $30 a day for delivered water, when we bought it,” she said. “It was more just for tourists back then. We had to educate people on the benefits of mineral water, because it hasn’t been popular since the ’40s and ’50s.”

Bring back the Baker?

The growing popularity of natural products helped Famous Water Co.’s resurgence, Elder said. She has two full-time employees and four part-timers.

“People want water that hasn’t been processed and stripped of all the minerals,” she said.

Many also want products that are made with Crazy Water: bath salts and crystals, soaps and lotions.

At an old-fashioned soda fountain in the building’s gift shop, Crazy Water is used to make teas and non-alcoholic frozen drinks, and is carbonated and blended with various juices for fizzy drinks.

But the idea of bringing back the mineral baths is what got Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce director Beth Henary Watson excited.

“As a chamber, we’re so glad that when people call here and ask, ‘Do you guys still have the mineral baths?’ we can say yes!”

A move back to what was the original heart and soul of Mineral Wells will “fit hand in glove with developers we’re trying to work with to get the Baker opened again,” said City Manager Lance Howerton. “A big part of their concept for the Baker is to reopen the spa floor, the second floor, and this certainly is a part of what we’re looking at in the drive to reopen the Baker.”

The 14-story, 450-room Baker Hotel, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, attracted its share of celebrities, including Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Roy Rogers and the Three Stooges.

Elder shares Howerton’s enthusiasm, but is a bit more cautious.

“We’ll see the response to this bath and go from there,” she said. “We’re marketing with Facebook and our 5,000 customer e-mail addresses. Those are people who already like Crazy Water, so they should have the most interest in bathing in it, too.”

Does it really work?

Most of the medical data about such curative powers has come from studies of the Dead Sea and of mineral water in Avéne, France, said Dr. Angela Moore, a dermatologist with Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

“It shows that the water did help various dermatological issues by patients soaking in it,” she said. “I’m not aware of Mineral Wells water. I can’t tell without a study how patients would do. It isn’t just the contents of the water, but how patients’ skin responds to the concentrations of the contents.”

However, so long as the provider ensures that there is no bacteria that could start infections, Moore could see no reason not to soak in the water.

Famous Water Co. is a public water supplier in the eyes of the Food and Drug Administration and the Texas Health Department, both of which regulate the business, Elder said.

The water’s treatment includes ultraviolet light, and it’s checked for bacteria at least weekly, which satisfies Moore’s caveat.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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