Day Trips: Hot Wells County Park
Ruins of historic resort anchor SA park
Hot Wells County Park in San Antonio preserves the ruins of a once-famous resort that served celebrities and the well-heeled. The walls of the old hotel and bathhouse look like the remnants of an ancient castle. Cleaned up and stabilized, the shell is the latest chapter of a legend. The new park opened in April 2019.
Workmen discovered hot, sulfurous water when drilling a well for the Southwestern Insane Asylum in 1892. Advertisements hyped the water piped to a nearby spa as a cure for everything from ulcers to baldness. After less than a year, the sanitarium burned down.
By the turn of the century, a grand new bathhouse and hotel marketed the curative waters. A rail line from downtown delivered Charlie Chaplin, Teddy Roosevelt, Cecil B. DeMille, and other famous visitors. For a time the hotel was also the headquarters for the Star Film Company.
It all began unraveling with World War I and the invention of antibiotics. Prohibition put a serious damper on profits. The complex was eventually sold to a parochial school in 1923.
On Jan. 17, 1925, fire destroyed the hotel. The site became a tourist park using the swimming pools from 1927 until 1977. Lightning in 1988 destroyed all that remained usable, and in 1994, the county took the property for back taxes. Fires in 1997 and 2011 consumed all that remained except the stone walls.
Hot Wells County Park stands at 5503 S. Presa St. as a testament to a different era in San Antonio to all that care to listen. The park provides access to the trail along the San Antonio River and has restrooms. There is no admission fee.
1,465th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at austinchronicle.com/daily/travel.