Ghosts of San Antonio Past: Hot Wells Resort

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Stinky, sulfurous water of 104℉ runs through veins underneath San Antonio and the surrounding area. This discovery has had many impacts on the city, its history, and its visitors, and one big way started with the age-old search for water. In 1892, a well was drilled for water to the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum (now known as the San Antonio State Hospital). This type of drilling was still in its infancy and the Edwards Aquifer saline/freshwater interface was yet to be understood. Fortunately, sulfuric baths were very popular at this time due to therapeutic touting and the Asylum leased the well waters to local businessmen who turned the area into a site which drew large crowds, ferried by electric streetcars to the site every 20 minutes.

Promenade pic

Photo: Facebook/Vintage San Antonio

After the building of several smaller buildings and their destruction by fire, investors secured a 25-year lease on the Asylum’s waters in November 1899, and by late 1900 had completed a bathhouse and three public 64’ x 90’ swimming pools. A hotel was completed by 1902, featuring 80 rooms and many conveniences modern to the day such as individual telephones and steam heat. During this time, the investors secured their own well on the property, and Asylum water was no longer piped in. By 1908, the hotel had expanded to become one of the largest in the southwest, and the site became a popular destination for the powerful and famous of the day. Many traveled to the Hot Wells resort via their own private rail car, after Southern Pacific railroad tycoon E. H. Harriman commissioned a side track built to the site.

World War I had a serious impact on resort business, due to the diversion of national resources away from leisure pursuits. Prohibition had an additional negative impact, as serving alcoholic beverages was previously a major revenue stream. The property sold in 1923 for conversion to a parochial institute, with the hotel serving as a dormitory until it was consumed by fire in early 1925. In 1927, tourist cottages were built around the grounds, and guests were allowed to use the swimming pool.

Ghosts of the past
Photo: Facebook/David Sanchez

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