"Come Bathe in our Healing Waters" and "Breathe in our Salty Ocean Air": The Making of Southern and Northern Resort Communities Amidst Recurring Epidemics
Epidemics, outbreaks, incurable maladies, and deadly pathogens have made headline news for centuries. Contagion has always been a rather frightening topic of conversation, provoking hysteria, paranoia, and fear when accompanying the announcement that an infectious and contagious disease was sweeping across the region.
Cities such as New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, which were heavily industrialized and overcrowded urban hubs by the early nineteenth century, became frenzied when outbreaks occurred. Congested cities became havens for disease, with recurrent outbreaks of: typhoid, tuberculosis (also known as consumption), cholera, smallpox, and yellow fever spread rapidly, annihilating thousands.
Alarm and trepidation, which had surrounded outbreaks for centuries, gained strength due to the mass production of varied media, including newspapers, doctors’ pamphlets, magazine articles, quarantine notices, personal letters, and sensationalized advertisement stories.
Oddly enough, these printed warnings, along with innumerable offerings of potions, lotions, and pills at local apothecaries, aided in the development and substantial growth of resort communities in the North and South during the early-to-mid-nineteenth century.
"The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”
The Healing Waters of the Spring
As printed media began to heavily advertise the need to escape to the countryside and breathe clean, fresh air into the lungs, resort communities became highly sought out destinations. White Sulphur Springs, Sweet Springs, and a variety of the other popular Virginia Springs, began to benefit from a growing interest in utilizing the therapeutic waters in order to attain health and well-being.
Being in an enviable location, with open space, clean air, and picturesque landscape, these springs became salubrious destinations for sickly individuals with a host of diseases and ailments. The cure-all lure of healing waters became an addiction for some, and many were willing to risk life and limb to reach the watering holes of the South.
The Benefits of Seaside Recuperation
The seaside charm of Newport, Rhode Island had not gone unnoticed. Newport had been a bustling resort community prior to the influx of seasonal tourism which increased considerably during the early-to-mid nineteenth century.
The salt water baths of the ocean, promenade paths, Bellevue Avenue drives, picnics, and clam bakes were all prescriptions for rejuvenation and relaxation.
Newport’s accessible maritime location made Aquidneck Island a top-rated destination for the infirm with a range of ailments throughout the early decades of the nineteenth century.
No Cholera in Newport...
Rumor maintained that Newport, Rhode Island was renowned as one of the healthiest cities in New England. With its ocean air, natural walking paths, and sea breezes, it was proudly promoted as a health resort community.
However, it too suffered from disease outbreaks and high mortality rates during infectious periods of the nineteenth century.
This image comes from a death ledger from Newport City Hall showing that in just one week, there were nine deaths from a cholera outbreak during July, 1854. It appears that even the favorable climate and salty ocean air could not forestall death’s claim.
In the Dead of Night...
At Blue Sulphur Spring, Virginia (presently West Virginia) it was reported that individuals, particularly those suffering from cholera, would find this spring favorable for healing.
"The Blue” was affectionately referred to on many occasions through personal letters and diary entries. It became known as one of the more sought-after and popular watering holes of the Virginia Springs.
Death from disease did occur at watering holes although efforts were made to avoid publicizing that fact. It is reported that if a visitor succumbed at the Springs, their body was removed in the darkness of night so that it would not disturb or alarm other visitors. There was even a graveyard for these individuals to be laid to rest. Although personal accounts and advertisements claimed that the Virginia Springs had healed and cured a variety of illnesses, these settings were also places of death, loss and grief.