Everyone loved Central Park’s mineral water spa

You know how clean-eating New Yorkers never go anywhere without a bottle of water? Well, water—specifically mineral water—was a huge health trend in the 19th century city too.

Drinking and bathing in it was known as the “water cure,” which supposedly could treat fever, digestive complaints, and other body issues, as Ann Haddad wrote in in a blog post for the Merchant’s House Museum.

Wealthy New Yorkers took advantage of water curatives hawked by trendy hydrotherapists. They also headed upstate to visit the newly popular mineral spring resort spas.

For those of more modest means, an alternative came to Central Park in 1869: a mineral water “spa” that served several different types of spring-fed water.

The spa was the idea of a mineral water company owner, Carl Schultz, who (along with doctors touting the powers of H20) petitioned the Board of Health to allow him to open a venue in the park that would dispense water.

“The pavilion was erected in 1867 at the request of numerous physicians who felt that here was an opportunity of combining a mineral water cure with exercise in the open air,” recalled Scientific American in 1905.

After getting the go-ahead, Schultz had Central Park co-designers Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould build a delightful, Moorish style pavilion north of the Sheep Meadow at about 72nd Street.

“The waters are of two kinds: first the natural mineral waters from all the famous springs at home and abroad, and second mineral waters prepared artificially and scientifically, thus ensuring a definite chemical combination at all times,” wrote Scientific American.

The mineral water pavilion wasn’t just about clean water. It offered “morning summer recitals as an entertainment for the water-ingesting masses,” stated Ann Haddad.

Morning was an especially popular time at the mineral water pavilion, as seen above in an 1872 Harper’s illustration. According to the caption, these were Jewish New Yorkers socializing and enjoying the refreshing water.

Trends come and go, of course. After the turn of the century, with clean Croton-delivered water available to almost every home in New York City, the popularity of Central Park’s mineral water pavilion took a dive.

By 1960, the colorful little building with the fanciful roof was demolished. Today, the location is marked on park maps as “Mineral Springs,” a testament to the spa’s 19th century popularity.

[Photos NYPL Digital Collection]

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13 Responses to “Everyone loved Central Park’s mineral water spa”

  1. Ann Haddad Says:

    Thanks for the reference, Esther! I love reading, (and writing) about the water cure movement!

  2. Zoe Says:

    This is so interesting Ephemeral. I never heard of this before. I wonder how the water was brought in & dispensed.

    I’m not surprised the proprietor had a German name. Lol — German elderly grandmothers/mothers in law who lived at home w/ their children & grandchildren went to the ‘Baths’ (spa) in Germany for fresh air (believed to be curative) & healthy food or an arthritis cure etc. when things got a bit too crazy or argumentative at home. (Including our own in the early/mid 1960s). I guess these people only made it as far as Central Park. (The “Jewish” statement accompanying the original article probably included a lot of German immigrants then — even if German Russians).

    It’s sad that this building was torn down.

  3. krishnakumarsinghblog Says:

    good

  4. Eare Says:

    John Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, died while treating his crushed foot with water therapy. His son, Washington, and daughter-in-law, Emily, started and completed the BR. His foot was crushed by a ferry, as he was deciding the location for the bridge.

  5. Zoe Says:

    I have just read Ann Haddad’s post on the Merchant House blog linked here. Regarding the mention there of people having gone to spas (baths/springs) for lung ailments; in the comment about my grandmother earlier I forgot to mention that she was sent to one — by a physician — in early 20th c. Germany for TB. They were made to recline outside in the cold w/ blankets covering them for the fresh air. (Cold fresh air).

    Having had another look at these photos it looks like the bar (?) that the gentleman is leaning against where presumably the waters were served (?) was modeled on a traditional Turkish (Ottoman Near Eastern & African) hammam (bath) or room. This was when Orientalism was still in vogue obviously. (See the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU for this type of room).

    • Ann Haddad Says:

      Hi Zoe, I believe in your grandmother’s case, she was most likely sent to a sanitarium for the treatment of TB, which is different from mineral water spas. The modality of open-air therapy to treat the disease was developed in Germany by Dr. Hermann Brehmer. In fact, that is how Edward Livingston Trudeau, the physician who established the famed sanitarium in Saranac Lake, NY, learned of the approach. If you are interested, my blog post of Feb., 2017, “The Man that Got Away” contains some information about this.

      • Zoe Says:

        She went to the very same ‘bath’ both times.

        The first time when she went there for TB in the early 20th c. it was prior to the use of antibiotics so the only cure they gave was fresh cold air (away from the air polluted City — as she lived in the old part of Berlin).

        Later on in the early 60s she went basically to have whatever natural arthritis *cures* they had. Mud baths & mineral water etc.

        I looked up the particular place she stayed which was run by a woman & it is no longer there; but of course the town is still there w/ hotels & spas etc. as it’s an old Roman baths town in Germany.

      • Zoe Says:

        PS Ann: I love your Merchant House blog! The article about Luis (inc. the TB cure) is interesting.

        I lived blocks away on East First for years in the 80s & walked past the house a lot — yet had not a clue that it was such a storied place & a museum. If there was a small plaque or sign I didn’t notice it. None of my friends or neighbours mentioned it either.

        The internet has brought so much around the corner to light. (It’s *good* according to even the Pope 🙂 ).

      • Ann Haddad Says:

        Thank you so much, Zoe! If you’re ever nearby, do come for a visit and tour. It is an extraordinary house, with so much history.

      • Zoe Says:

        Thank you Ann. I wish I’d gone when I lived three blocks away — but I’m happy you’re still there & hopefully protected from future teardown (inshaallah).

        I don’t want to derail Ephemeral’s post thread here but I am very curious about the *haunting* rumours regarding The Merchant House. If you are at liberty to discuss it: What is the official position of the museum on that? (I say ‘official’ to not put you at odds w/ the museum — whatever your opinion).

  6. Bob Mayer Says:

    As a Greensward/Greeter Guide for almost 8 years I never knew why the current building is labeled Mineral Springs on our maps. An excellent piece.

    Bob Mayer

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