"Taking the Waters" at Texas's Health Spas
IN 1877, THE GALVESTON Daily News RECOGNIZED THAT "TAKING THE
waters," meaning the bathing in or drinking of mineral waters, was an
increasingly popular practice in the state. It reported that "having plea-
sure as well as health in view after 'doing' Sour Lake, we extended our
trip westward in order to fully inform ourselves as to the comparative
merits of the various watering places that are becoming of so much im-
portance to our State-becoming more so as they have heretofore been
but little known."' This observation heralded the resurgence of a cen-
turies-old practice that played an important role in the daily life of Tex-
ans and visitors alike.
The Lone Star State once claimed hundreds of watering resorts, some
nationally famous. As early as the 183os, mineral waters, an important
Texas resource, played a pivotal role in the life of many towns. Towns
sprang up around colorful, odoriferous, or bitter waters. People worked,
played, and prayed around them. Dreams fed the frenzy that often ac-
companied such a discovery. Throughout Texas's history, this pastime
continued to attract the weak and strong. Although Texas histories have
neglected to examine on a comprehensive scale the importance of min-
eral waters, these sites facilitated Texas's settlement, influenced the
state's transportation routes and commerce, and helped define people's
attitudes toward the land and their health and well-being.
People with similar hopes and affinities created distinct social activi-
ties in different settings. From the Piney Woods of East Texas to the de-
sertic Quitman Mountains of West Texas, they journeyed to partake of
nature's magic elixir. Wherever they traveled in Texas, on a daily basis
they gathered around pavilions, bathhouses, fountains, or boarding-
houses, facilities similar to those of other spas but different from struc-
tures in other Texas towns. They created local events that fostered
friendships and relieved the stresses of everyday life.
* Janet Valenza has a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Texas at Austin. She has
taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio and at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin. She is
a consultant in Austin and is revising her dissertation for publication.
1 Daily News (Galveston), Aug. 14, 1877.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed December 20, 2013.