Healing and Rebuilding--The Properties of the Virginia Springs
What are they made of?
White Sulphur Springs
"Its temperature is 62 of Fahrenheit and remains uniformly the same during the winter's blasts and the summer's heat. [...] There is no discolouration of the water during long wet spells or other evidences that it becomes blended with common water perflating through the earth. The quantity and temperature of this spring being uniform under all circumstances gives a confidence which experience in its use has verified of its uniform strength and efficiency. Its taste and smell fresh at the spring are that of all waters strongly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen gas. When removed from the spring and kept in an open vessel for a sufficient length of time for this gas to escape or when it has been heated or frozen for this purpose it becomes essentially tasteless and inodorous and could scarely be distinguished either by smell or taste from common limestone water."
Blue Sulphur Springs
"The Blue Sulphur is successfully used for the various diseases for which other sulphur waters are and is believed to be superior to many in certain forms of female afflictions connected obstructions. The spring is a very hold one yielding about 15 gallons of water a minute. It abounds in purple black and white deposits from the water. Considered as a remedial agent or as a comfortable and pleasant summer retreat this watering place offers very high inducements to the seekers of health and the votaries of pleasure."
The Salt Sulphur
"This spring is neatly enclosed in a marble reservoir two feet square and about two feet ten inches deep. It is protected from the weather by a neat and edifice. In the various arid multiform diseases affecting the viscera such as hepatitis, jaundice, gastritis, pyrosis, dyspepsia, and some forms of diarrhoea. Salt Sulphur is one of the most valuable of our agents. The result of our own observations for many years is to entertain a very high opinion of the salt water in dyspepsia and particularly in cases with obstinate costiveness."
Red Sulphur Springs
"The water of the spring is clear and cool its temperature being 54 Fahrenheit. The Red Sulphur is the least stimulating of our sulphur waters, and by some is even regarded as a sedative. It is employed with good effect in many cases which our other sulphur waters are prescribed being less exciting than any other may be successfully used in some cases in which other waters be contra-indicated."
"These springs are justly celebrated for the tonic of their waters used either internally or externally. Few mineral waters have acquired such fashionable and well merited celebrity as the Sweet Springs. The name is calculated to convey erroneous impressions of their taste which is like a solution of a small quantity of a calcareous or magnesian carbonate. The excess of carbonic acid gives however the water a briskness productive of a very different effect on the palate from what an imperfect mixture of the earths would produce.
The freedom and advantage with which the bath the Sweet Springs has been used by aged persons evidence of its general safety. The duration of the bath is usually too long two to fifteen minutes will embrace periods to every condition and only the most robust remain in the last mentioned time. It is often advantageous to use the bath twice or thrice the day."
"The temperature of the red spring water as it issues from three different heads is from 77 to 80 Fahrenheit. The water is conveyed into a comfortable and commodious plunge bath at a short distance from its source. The waters of the Sweet Chalybeate are used for the same diseases for which the waters of the Sweet, are prescribed. They are a delightful and and are now deservedly attracting a large attention."
Each of the above Springs descriptions appear in The Virginia springs: With Their Analysis; and Some Remarks on Their Character,1847 by John Jennings Moorman. Please note that misspellings are original to quoted text.
Virginia Springs Bathing Rituals: The Holistic Approach
It is often maintained that in order to treat an ailment or a disease, it is important to treat the entire person, not just the symptoms. This theory is not a new one; in fact, holistic treatments were often prescribed as curative practices during the nineteenth century, particularly at the Virginia Springs.
Plans for improving overall health included encouraging the sufferer to eat right, exercise moderately, and take the waters, either internally, externally, or both. The all encompassing health benefits of the Springs were highly advertised and documented in personal letters, medical journals, and memoirs. Many physicians advocated that their patients take on a personalized regimen for their own individual care.
When choosing which spring to frequent, convalescents took several factors into account including but not limited to: the water's mineral properties, the suitability of the accommodations, the dining selection, and the leisure and physical activities offered on the premises. Therefore, when advertising their accommodations, proprietors often included write-ups such as; "There is near the hotel a ten-pin alley, in which convalescents can exercise and strengthen the long unused limbs that the hot water has freed from the shackles of rheumatism. A moderate dose of exercise taken an hour after breakfast is a good preparative for either of the baths. Time is consumed here as it should be where invalids do congregate--in tranquil amusements, of which the most interesting is getting well; then comes talking, walking and chess, eating, riding and sleeping." -Letters Descriptive of The Virginia Springs, 1834 & 1836
Perhaps finding the right combination of activity and relaxation for overall health and well-being helped to make the Springs circuit tour such a popular travel route. Many individuals found one watering hole that healed them, and remained loyal to the locale for decades; whilst others traversed the various springs never finding their hoped for miracle cure.
Did mineral waters and baths really heal? Were their chemical properties capable of miracles? Or, were the waters merely psychological healers, a mind over matter cure?
The testimonials listed below, attest to the curative properties of the Virginia Springs. These personal accounts are found in Peregrine Prolix's Letters Descriptive of The Virginia Springs, 1834 & 1836 and John Jennings Moorman's The Virginia springs: With Their Analysis; and Some Remarks on Their Character, 1847. The citations reference cases of individual recovery, and advertise the perceived power associated with drinking or bathing in the healing waters.
Hot Springs, Virginia
"April 1833, I was seized with Cholera in a southern climate, from which I had scarcely recovered when intermittent fever attacked me. [...] I became much emaciated and debilitated; my spleen became much enlarged; an excessively morbid condition of the stomach continued; an ungovernable craving from food of the grossest description, and other indigestible substances.
[...] In this state of almost despair I visited the White Sulphur Springs, and finding that the water disagreed with me, inasmuch as it proved too drastic, I determined to visit the Hot Springs. For the first two weeks of using the baths, I was elated with the hope of a speedy recovery.
[...] The improvements in my complexion was so great, that the visiters would remark, "Why Doctor, you will soon be well"; my spleen was reduced about one half, the abdominal muscles became relaxed and soft, my strength and activity were much improved, and every symptom seemed to give way to the use of the bath." -A. Y. Watson, M.D.
White Sulphur Springs
"Dear Sir When I first came to the springs I commenced the water fresh at the fountain but was compelled to discontinue it in consequence of its stimulating effects upon my producing at the same time headache dryness and burning in the skin with constipation of the bowels. I then had recourse to it brought to my room in an open vessel and let it remain until its gas had partly escaped before I drank it. The use it in this way produced the most desirable results and in a reasonable time did much to restore me to health having been previously afflicted with disease of the liver and stomach with a affection of the lungs." -CHARLES KEEN; as quoted in The Virginia springs: With Their Analysis; and Some Remarks on Their Character; 1847
Bathing Generalities for The Virginia Springs
"In no other country perhaps do mineral waters abound in greater variety than in the United States and it is a subject of sincere regret that their nature applicability and proper method of administration should have been so little studied both by physicians and the public at large. It is true that certain opinions generally prevail in enlightened circles as regards the curative powers of some of our more celebrated fountains and these opinions so far as they go being generally founded on experience may in the main be tolerably correct.
[...] Often am I pained to see persons persevering in the use of a mineral water to their evident prejudice and for no better reason than that Mr or Mrs Such a one was cured of a disease supposed to be similar. Or by the general recommendation of some medical man who sent them to the mountains. Occasionally it has become my painful duty to advise patients to retrace their melancholy steps homeward without using any of the waters because none were adapted to their case. Mineral Waters are not a panacea; they act like all other medicines by producing certain effects upon the animal economy and upon principles capable of being clearly defined. It follows that there are various diseases and states of the system to which they are not only not adapted but in which they would be eminently injurious." -Dr. John Bell, as quoted in The Virginia springs: With Their Analysis; and Some Remarks on Their Character; 1847.
Interestingly, these testimonials, over 180 years old, are hauntingly similar to today's modes of marketing and advertising. When it comes to the validity or benefits of a specific product, it seems that word of mouth, and personal accounts have always resonated with consumers, perhaps more so than the advice of trained physicians.
Although the ailments may vary slightly, the concept remains: everyone is in search of healthful longevity. Human nature may resort to drastic measures in order to insure a cure. Many believed then, just as today that if a remedy worked for someone else, then it may work for you too, regardless of the dangers or consequences involved.