History

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

Another change to the property occurred in 1942 when Mrs. Cleo S. Jones and her husband Ralph purchased the property and converted it into a motel and trailer park. The lobby of the bathhouse was reopened as a bar and grill called The Flame Room, which operated until 1977, and since closing that same year, many potential investors have labored to restore the area and hotel, but little has been accomplished. The well was plugged in January 2014 but the dream of revitalization continues. Land has been donated and government plus private sector interest keeps this history in public view. As of mid-2017, negotiations over lien costs and lead cleanup has resulted in the county agreeing to pay for the outstanding lien due to past remediation and for the lead cleanup to quality for a $1 million grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to develop the park. Stay tuned for this ever-evolving project via the Hot Wells Conservancy group.

References:

www.edwardsaquifer.net/hotwells.html

Rybczyk, Mark Louis. (2016) “San Antonio Uncovered.” San Antonio, Texas: Maverick Books, Trinity University Press.