Mineral Wells, Texas: "Where America Drinks Its Way to Health."
The Famous Mineral Water Company of Mineral Wells carries on a century-old tradition, but with a modern twist. Along with jugs of the water that made the north central Texas town renowned as a health resort, the new owners sell postcards, souvenirs, ice cream, Italian ices, coffee, and espresso drinks.
In the rugged landscape west of Fort Worth, Scott and Carol Elder may have the only commercial cappuccino machine in Palo Pinto County. The big coffee-making machine on the mahogany and marble antique bar is a tip of the Stetson to their years living in Portland, Oregon, while he finished law school.
Last fall the young couple returned to her hometown to purchase the water company from the local historical committee. Since then they have spruced up the old red brick building, added some new equipment, and set out to revive the tradition of the industry that put Mineral Wells on the map.
Before J.H. Lynch dug the first well in town, the rocky hills were best known as the last holdout for bands of Indians. During the drought of 1880, the well produced a foul-smelling water. Lynch managed to choke down enough of the water to cure his rheumatism.
Word of the water's curative properties soon spread, and Judge Lynch began organizing a town and hosting health-seekers. When a woman thought to be insane was cured by drinking the water, the town's third well became known as the Crazy Water Well.
Into the 1950s, the sick and suffering sought the cure of the high concentrations of vitality-boosting minerals at wells and springs around the state. The arrival of antibiotics and other medical miracles in the 1940s dried up the enthusiasm for the unpredictable cures of mineral waters.
In its heyday as a world-famous health resort town, Mineral Wells took full advantage of the situation. The Crazy Water Hotel, now a retirement home, proclaimed over the Texas radio airwaves that Mineral Wells was "Where America Drinks Its Way to Health."
The most expansive of the town's luxury hotels was the Baker Hotel. Built in 1929, the 450-room, 13-story skyscraper still dominates the Mineral Wells skyline. At its peak the hotel offered mineral baths, bowling, and a ballroom that attracted the rich and famous of the day. The dilapidated building stands vacant now, looking for a buyer to pump dollars into returning the once-magnificent hotel to its glory.
At one time there were more than 400 wells and 14 water companies operating in Mineral Wells, Carol Elder says. Although many homes still have back-yard wells, the Famous is the last of the commercial mineral-water companies.
Ed Dismukes founded the company in 1904 and operated it for more than 50 years. He was pharmacist from Waco who arrived with stomach problems and lived into his 90s. Besides mineral water, he sold several products made from the water. He sold an eye-bath solution in the days before contact lenses. Dismukes' Pronto-lax had many of the same minerals as modern laxatives and was said to work so fast you'd better be on the way to the outhouse when you took it. Because the water was the expensive part of the product to ship, Dismukes also sold a mineral crystal that could be shipped around the world and then rehydrated for a drink or a bath.
While the Elders make no health claims for their water, it is widely believed that any mineral-deficient diet can benefit from the infusion of the natural sulfates, carbonates, chlorides, lithium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium. From their two wells extending more than 100 feet into the Pennsylvanian Aquifer under Mineral Wells, the Elders offer three types of water. Their premium drinking water is a good-tasting, filtered water without a hint of the mineral taste. The shallow-well Crazy Water is high in mineral content and has a strong flavor that only the toughest can endure. The deep-well water has a lot of the same flavors, only milder.
The Elders have already developed a thriving market selling drinking water to the locals. Prices start at 60 cents a gallon if you bring your own jug or 85 cents a gallon if they supply the plastic jug.
In order to entice the locals to their water company, the Elders added Silver Scoop Ice Cream, a favorite confection made in nearby Abilene. They also host "Friday Night At The Famous" a summer evening mix of homestyle barbecue, local music, and plenty of ice cream from 7 to 10pm.
"We've been really surprised by the amount of business [since they opened in April]," Scott said. On a recent Saturday, between a steady stream of locals filling five-gallon bottles and tourist buying ice cream cones, there was a couple from Dallas celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary. The couple had spent their wedding night in the Baker Hotel and wanted to reminisce with the taste of the mineral water. "Just like I remembered it," he said to his wife before they walked back to the car parked at the curb.
The Famous Mineral Water Company is a few blocks north of the central business district off U.S. 281 (Oak Street) at 209 N.W. Sixth St. The ice cream shop, open Tuesday through Saturday, 9am-8pm during the summer. For more information, call 904/325-8870. For information on Mineral Wells, call the visitors bureau at 800/252-6989.
Coming up this weekend ...
Memorialfest 2000 at the Kingsland Chamber Grounds on FM 1431 celebrates the weekend with a day of music, food, and an art festival, May 27. 915/388-6211.
151st Birthday Celebration in Luckenbach won't be an ordinary party and won't be the same without you, May 28 at 3pm. 830/997-3224 or www.luckenbachtexas.com.
Coming up ...
Texas Folklife Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio has been moved from August to the first weekend of June. This is one of the premier celebrations of the diverse cultures that came together to form our unique heritage, June 1-4. 210/458-2300 or www.texancultures.utsa.edu.
Obsessive & Compulsive, a new exhibit by folk artists Hector Alonzo Benavides and Ike Morgan, opens at Webb Gallery in Waxahachie May 27, 6-9pm, with the premiere of Ike Morgan, a documentary film by Scott Ogden, at 8pm. The show continues through July 9. 972/938-8085 or www.webbartgallery.com.