Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lebanon's Magnetic Water

As I mentioned recently on this blog, many resorts sprang up in the Ozarks during the medicinal water craze that swept across the rest of the country in the 1880s. Most of the resorts were located at natural, mineral-water springs that were thought to have curative properties, and the success of the resorts often led to the founding of new towns. However, there was at least one resort that sprang up during the 1880s at a town that was already long established, and the resort was not tied to mineral water from a spring. Lebanon, Missouri, which was established about 1849 as the seat of Laclede County, became a very successful resort destination after a deep well was dug in the town and the water was discovered to have magnetic properties that were thought to be curative.
In the spring of 1888, a deep well was being dug in Lebanon to supply the town with water. When the well reached about 700 feet around the first of May, something peculiar was discovered. Every piece of metal that came into contact with the well-digging equipment would immediately adhere to the augur. The well was eventually dug to a depth of about 1,000 feet, and the water that was taken from it was found to retain its magnetic qualities. Metal that came in contact with the water became magnetized. Not only that, the water also seemed to have electric properties. Holding the ends of two pieces of metal together while the other ends were touching the augur created a circuit so that tiny sparks were visible. Heating the water so that steam was released also caused sparks to fly.
The discovery of these qualities caused great excitement, as the water was almost immediately heralded for its curative properties. A.A. West a former Lebanon postmaster, started using the water almost immediately after the strange properties were discovered and was quickly sold on their curative powers. He had been suffering from rheumatism for ten years, and after being treated for with the water for about ten days, he reportedly discarded his cane. Another man, who had previously taken the waters of Eureka Springs, testified that the magnetic-electric water of Lebanon was every bit as beneficial as the Eureka water. On Saturday, May 19, just two or three weeks after the wonderful properties of the water had been discovered, a crowd estimated at 2,000 people flocked to Lebanon to test the newfound cure, and a Lebanon correspondent to the St. Joseph Weekly Herald concluded, "This well bids fair to pluck laurels from Eureka's crown."
Not everyone was convinced. The editor of the Rolla Herald, for instance, asked rhetorically, if “truth lies at the bottom of a well,” as the old adage says, “what lies at the mouth of the Lebanon Magnetic Electric well?” The Rolla journalist suggested that perhaps the great qualities of the magnetic well were little more than the boasting of Lebanon’s newspapers, the Rustic and the Graphic. Later in 1888, the city of Rolla dug its own “artesian mineral well” and began promoting it in competition with the Lebanon magnetic well. A few months later, a correspondent to the Herald questioned Lebanon’s claims that its magnetic water was superior to the mineral water of places like Eureka Springs and Rolla.
Praise for the healing waters of Lebanon continued throughout the next year. In early August of 1889, a correspondent to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch predicted that Lebanon was "destined to be one of the famous health resorts of our country." Many cures that bordered on the miraculous, said the correspondent, had already been made, especially in healing rheumatism, dyspepsia, and neuralgia. The writer further predicted that Lebanon, a town of 3,000 residents, would become a city of 10,000 people within five years, as many of the folks who came for the healing waters would decide to stay.
The fame of Lebanon's magnetic waters spread until a St. Louis firm decided to purchase the well. In 1890, the company built the elegant Gasconade Hotel, at a price of $80,000. The firm put in electric lights and established a street car service from the train depot to the hotel, so that its total investment in land, buildings, and improvements amounted to $150,000. As well as promoting the resort, the firm also started bottling the water and marketing it through St. Louis drugstores.
Alas, the hotel and the magnetic waters were not as big a success as the investors had envisioned, and Lebanon's fame as a healing resort soon faded. The Gasconade Hotel was converted to a sanitarium after just a few years, and it burned ten years after it was built.


Blogger Darla said...

Hi! I was just reading through the huge tome "History of Laclede [and other] Counties" as I'm doing family history research, and came across the entry about "magnetic water". When I googled, I found your blog post. Great summary -- thanks! I can't seem to find any follow-up though ... did anyone ever figure out why the water was magnetized? did it suddenly stop being that way? Just curious.

September 27, 2017 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

I'm not sure what caused the magnetic properties. I think there's been some speculation about that matter, but I don't know what, if any, conclusion was reached. Some, I think, have discredited the whole idea that the water was magnetized.

October 1, 2017 at 8:07 AM  

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