Friday, July 9, 2010
Mineral Springs and Boyhood Trips, Part 2
J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
As my Dad continued his story, we headed toward a picnic table with our dessert from JELLIS. [J. Ellis Drug Store, Glasgow, KY] Towards the river, a large round stone stood with water flowing from the top and sides. My Dad said when he was a little boy and they stopped here, he would go to that stone and drink as much water as he could hold. He said the water contained minerals and was good for one's health. I walked to the stone and saw the water shooting about 3 or 4 inches above the stone. I bent over and began drinking the cool water flowing above the stone. Just like many of the springs where I have tasted water, this water was very cold. I swallowed a big drink from the stone and stood up. Suddenly, I realized the water had a peculiar taste. Not only did the water now have a taste, I began to notice an odor much like rotten eggs. I was drinking from a old sulphur spring. As I began to belch the sulphur gas, my Dad began to laugh.
He related the story of the Sulphur Well. They would stop here for a rest during the all-day journey to the house of his Aunt Maude and Uncle Leonard. The ladies would begin to spread linens across the picnic tables, while the men and children washed their hands at the big stone.
I could only imagine the lunch these relatives prepared. Growing up attending family reunions, these relatives made the most scrumptious fried chicken, cathead biscuits, and sweet corn pudding. The ladies were recognized as the best cooks in southern Kentucky. There were three sisters called Annie,Nannie and Clara. As everyone else unloaded their prepared feasts, Annie and Nannie were spying out what they might carry home for supper.
We sat down at the picnic table, and I asked my Dad what they did while they rode along during this journey. He told me they sang songs, told stories, played games, and watched the sites along the road. His Uncles had to bring gasoline along to fill the tanks. Although there were some gas refueling stations or service stations, my Dad said there were few in the country.
He said the family gathered around the picnic feast, which was now covered with a large tablecloth. One of his Uncles would lead a prayer of blessing and the cloth covering the food would be removed.
When my Dad visited the White Sulphur Well as a boy, he remembered a swinging bridge crossing the water to the hotel and grounds. On the site of the sulphur well is a Kentucky Historical Society roadside marker:
This artesian well was discovered in 1845 by Ezekiel Neal, who was drilling for salt water. When he reached 180 ft. depth, pressure shot water, auger, and shafting over top of large sycamore tree. Besides salt, water contained sulphur, magnesium, and iron; used by many for its medicinal value. Constant water supply not affected by cold, heat, rain, or draught.
Beula Villa Hotel - Built in 1903 by Catlett W. Thompson, across from sulphur well. Two main buildings with guest rooms were noted for spacious, wide verandas. A swinging bridge was erected from the main veranda to the well. Next owner was King C. Crenshaw. Business thrived until 1960, when Crenshaw's health failed. After 65 years of serving the community, this popular hotel closed in 1968
My Dad did not remember ever staying at the hotel, but he did remember eating there on one occasion. He remembered the wide porches with rocking chairs, the smell of country ham and hot biscuits. My two most vivid flashbacks of the visit are seeing my Dad laugh as I continued to burp the taste of sulphur on our journey.
Martha Neal Cooke shared her memories of the Sulphur Well Hotel called the Beula Vista from her childhood.
“The smells from the Beula Vista met us as we made the turn toward the grand hotel in Sulphur Well. This was th eone Sunday ritual I looked forward to as a child. We got out of our car and headed for the enormous porch which semi-circled the hotel, and each adult and child found a high-backed flat-armed rocking chair in which to rock and talk for at least 30 minutes before dinner.
At the stroke of noon, King Crenshaw would come out on the porch and ring the biggest brass bell I’ve ever seen. He then led us through the parlor, with its Gone With the Wind lamps and their awesome prisms, to the dining room. There, round tables to seat 12 were ready with starched linen, heavy flatware, and the precious cargo of Sunday-dinner: fried county ham still steaming with the smell of coffee in the red-eye gravy, mashed potatoes with butter melting from the peaks, fried chicken and accompanying bowls of cream gravy, green beans visibly bolstered with ham chunks, and those silver dollar biscuits that would fog your glasses when you pulled them apart. How could they keep everything so hot! I don’t remember salads, except maybe cole slaw, but dessert! I can still taste the mixture of hot apple cobbler and cold ice-cream coming together in my mouth.” Sources: Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, in History, Egerton, 1993, Kentucky Historical Society