Man’s presence along the Fishing River stretches much further than its documented past. There is evidence that this environment has been home to man since at least 5,000 B.C. Fishing River divides Clay and Ray counties in northwest Missouri. It was covered with small villages and encampments of the ancient American people. They hunted the whitetail deer, turkey, and many other species that are still here today. The plush flora added a multitude of foods.
By the time the settlers arrived, the Native American populations were low. This had already been the case for nearly 500 years. As farming began in the area, pieces of the past were brought to the surface. From this evidence we know the area of Fishing River was almost continuously occupied. Periods include Mississippian, Woodland, and Archaic occupations.
In 1880, downtown Excelsior Springs was a wheat field. The Fishing River ran to the south and from the banks a reddish spring water flowed. Siloam Spring was the first of the mineral waters discovered in Excelsior Springs. It is the only natural supply of ferro-manganese mineral water in the United States and one of only five known worldwide. This spring is responsible for the growth of Excelsior Springs, Missouri as a tourist and health treatment center and which made us famous world-wide.
The healing properties of Siloam were discovered by accident when a local farmer, Travis Mellion, seeking relief for his daughter who suffered a form of tuberculosis, was given the water to drink and bath in. Within days there was a marked improvement in her condition. Inside of a few weeks she was cured. A Civil War veteran named Frederick Kuglar decided to test the mysterious red water on a running sore from a gunshot wound to his leg that had never healed and another recovery was recorded.
The owners of the property, Elizabeth and Anthony Wyman were encouraged by a Prathersville preacher named Dr. J.V.B. Flack to plat the valley and form a town, which they did, with Flack as a partner. Before a year was out, 200 houses nestled in the valley and clung to the rugged hillsides. Hundreds of visitors camped under tents and in the shelter of covered wagons in hopes that taking the waters would revive their health.
Eventually more than 40 mineral water wells and springs were identified. Other waters available include sodium bicarbonate, calcium bicarbonate and saline sulphur. There are more groupings of mineral water in Excelsior Springs than anywhere else in the world.
Visitors were soon attracted from the larger towns and cities. Stage lines were pressed into operation from the nearest railroad points of Liberty, Missouri City, Vibbard, Kearney and Lawson. In an incredibly short time, small boarding and rooming houses sprang into being. In 1881, the first hotel, The Excelsior Hotel, was built and remained the only hotel until the opening of the first Elms Hotel in 1888.
The first Elms Hotel was built by the Excelsior Springs Company, a group of Kansas City capitalists credited with starting the infant resort on its way to national fame. In addition to building the first Elms Hotel, the company platted Central Park, Forest Park and Beacon Hill additions, erected a Music Hall which seated 1,320 persons, brought George H. Kessler in to develop a park and driveway system, built a water bottling plant, bowling alley and swimming pool, instituted a nation-wide campaign of advertising in cooperation with the Milwaukee Railroad and donated lots to the congregations of the Christian, Methodist and Catholic churches and the site for the first public school building, the Wyman.
From 1900 to 1910, growth continued with public utilities, including an electric light plant which supplied current for 72 towns north of the river to within 20 miles of the hydro-electric dam at Keokuk, Iowa. The first nine holes of the Excelsior Springs Golf club were completed. Additional rail and highway service was expanded and many of the present, large structures seen downtown today were erected.
The fame of the city as a health resort was sealed with the recognition of the waters at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Charles W. Fish, general manager of the Excelsior Springs Bottling Company, exhibited the waters of the Regent, as well as Soterian Ginger Ale (made from the waters of the Soterian well). Both were awarded first prizes. The Ginger Ale later won another medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
The city and community civic groups are currently working to restore mineral water pavilions at as many sites as possible.
The Hall of Waters
In 1927, the City Council prepared a plan for taking over and operating 10 of the springs and wells. This led to the building of the Hall of Waters. Construction of the Hall of Waters began in 1936 and finished in 1938.
The Hall of Waters was built as a Federal Public Works Administration project and the project was for building the Hall, purchase of the mineral water rights, and piping the waters to bottling facilities within. Architecturally, the $1,000,000 Hall of Waters is significant as the most ambitious project to have been undertaken by the PWA in Missouri. The interior and exterior decoration incorporates Art Deco and Depression Modern styling with motifs of Mayan Indian tradition relating to water and Water Gods.
At the time of construction, there was both a men’s and women’s bath department, each handled as many as 300 people at any one time. There is a competition-size swimming pool that was filled with salt water and a polio-pool located on lower levels, along with the bottling works. Pipes were designed especially for each type of mineral water and a system to bring them all to the site was developed.
At its height, the Hall of Waters was the most completely outfitted health resort in the state and possibly the region. Waters of the ten main springs were piped into the longest mineral water bar in the world, which is still open to the public today. Known as the Hall of Springs, the solarium was the first section of the Hall to be opened in 1937. Five varieties of mineral water were bottled here and shipped all over the world.
By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the popularity of the Hall of Waters and other spas and clinics began to decline. The bottling operation was moved from the Hall to a new plant south across Fishing River and operated for a short time.
Today, the Hall houses the City offices, court and council chambers, a Visitor Center, small museum, and office for the Downtown Excelsior Partnership.
The Hall of Waters was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The building provides an ideal environment to witness first-hand and learn about the historic and economic importance of the mineral waters regarding the development of Excelsior Springs.