via My San Antonio

The Victorian era was a period marked by grandeur, elegance, and frivolity… and that applied to health and wellness, too. How else can you explain the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa? Marble pools filled with mineral-rich, borderline magic hot spring water; Turkish, Swedish, and Roman baths; an ostrich farm which held ostrich races and provided fashionable feathers for ladies’ hats; a beer-drinking bear… the list of what made this resort so insane goes on and on.

via Edwards Aquifer

But all of this opulence started, strangely enough, with the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, outside San Antonio. They were drilling a well to supply water to a new facility when they accidentally drilled into a hot spring; instead of fresh drinking water, they found hot, sulfurous liquid unfit for consumption. This wasn’t the worst thing, though; they were able to lease use of the water to anyone who wanted to take advantage of the mineral-rich water’s health benefits. In 1893, the rights to the water wound up in the hands of McClellan Shacklett, who developed a health spa and resort in a pecan grove nearby.

via Flickr/NOWCastSA

One of the first things Shacklett did was assemble a menagerie of exotic animals. He had a pair of Mexican lions and a beer-drinking bear that Judge Roy Bean had kept in his saloon/courtroom. In 1899, a group of investors bought Shacklett’s property and made it even bigger and better. This was the start of the resort’s Golden Age. The bathhouses boasted porcelain tubs, steam, Turkish, Roman, needle, and shower baths, the ostrich farm was relocated here, and all the latest amenities were installed (hot and cold water, steam heat, electric and gas lights, and individual telephones). Guests could attend dances, concerts, lectures, and parties, enjoy a meal in the garden cafe, cross the swinging bridge over the San Antonio River to explore the San Jose Mission ruins, and, of course, soak in the hot spring water, which could cure pretty much anything, including, “rheumatism, skin diseases, gout, and blood poisoning.”

via Flickr/NOWCastSA

The bathhouses boasted porcelain tubs, steam, Turkish, Roman, needle, and shower baths, the ostrich farm was relocated here, and all the latest amenities were installed (hot and cold water, steam heat, electric and gas lights, and individual telephones). Guests could attend dances, concerts, lectures, and parties, enjoy a meal in the garden cafe, cross the swinging bridge over the San Antonio River to explore the San Jose Mission ruins, and, of course, soak in the hot spring water, which could cure pretty much anything, including, “rheumatism, sepsis, liver/kidney/skin diseases, gout, and blood poisoning.”

via Flickr/NOWCastSA

Famous guests included Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Cecil B. De Mille, and the entire 1906 Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Unfortunately, World War I, Prohibition, and the occasional fire took a toll on Hot Wells. In 1927, cottages were installed instead of the grand hotel, and in 1942, it was further tweaked, turning into a motel/trailer park. It was abandoned in 1977, and eventually, the county took control of the property. It’s now slowly being preserved and developed into a cultural/historic park. Until then, it sits abandoned, a playground for urban explorers and curious history buffs.

via Flickr/NowCastSA
via Flickr/NOWCastSA
via Flickr/NOWCastSA
via Flickr/NOWCastSA

H/T Edwards Aquifer

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