“The Poughkeepsie Medical Springs are at this time in their highest state of perfection and claim the serious attention of the public, peculiarly those unfortunate fellow beings who may be deprived of that invaluable blessing, Health… ”
The use of healing waters was one of the earliest concepts shared by both Old World and New World cultures. There is no place of origin for this healing tradition. Some of the most ancient accounts of this practice appear on the oldest artifacts, including pottery, clay tablets and even hieroglyphics and ancient Native American manuscripts. Some of the oldest claims pertaining to North American healthy water appear as early as the first descriptions of the local climate, animals and plants, with section on the habitability of these new places and the reasons for their settlement often including a description of nearby ponds, lakes, waterfalls, and mountain springs. More obviously perhaps is the fact that this knowledge of healing water existed long before the first Europeans came to settle in North America. These places we consider to be “blessed” is a belief that we share with the originators of these traditions, the native American residing around Niagara Falls, Seneca Waters, Saratoga and Ballstown Springs, and a small creek that once ran down into the North or Hudson River at the south end of what is now the Poughkeepsie train station from a popular hotel spot known as New Ballstown.
Well 4 out of 5 isn’t bad when it comes to the discovery of healing springs on behalf of the local Indians. Whenever new lands are settled, water is always one of the first natural resources for which queries are made and then plans for exploration developed. Whenever places are overlooked due to their lack of the typical natural resources sought for such as valuable woods, precious ores, unique feathers, and most of the typical plant products, the discovery of a magical spring or waterway of unusual height or majestic form is enough to pursuade even the hesitant land buyer to take a risk, perhaps because he or she knows there are always those curious explorers out there trying to take their own personal look at these gifts of nature.
New Castle Springs
Upstream from New York City there was New Castle. On the 19th of October, 1696, Sachems of the Lower Hudson Valley known as Wampus, Cornelius and Coharnith sold part of their land to an English Colonel, Caleb Heathcote, for “the sum of 100 l. good and lawful money of New York.” To Caleb Heathcote, this land served as the place for him to produce a sizeable Hemp crop for the shipping industry just prior to the Revolutionary War. Others who came to reside on it provided Heathcote and the Lords and King with payments known as quit-rents, which usually consisted of a certain portion of their produce instead of actual currency. Such early lands sales included in the deed an agreement signed by the Sachems that they turned over to Heathcote all “messuages, tenements, gardens, orchards, arable land, pastures, feeding, woods, underwoods, meadows, marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, rivulets, mines, minerals (royal mines only excepted), fishing, fowling, hunting and hawking, rights, priviledges, hereditaments and appurtenances.” This land had more attached to it in natural products than even Heathcote and the Sachems could have expected.
The New Castle region of the County of West Chester was originally known as “Shappequa,” a name which came from the related term “Chapacour” and translates to “a vegetable root,” referring to one of their chief food sources Chappequa also bore some sulphur springs which drained the upper hills. Its water was transparent and bore a reddish-yellow powder which it then deposited. Ranking of Sulphur, it was considered medicinal.
This water was tested during the early post-colonial years for its mineral content, which found it to bear sulphate of lime, chloride of calcium, and muriate of Iron and Manganese. The new owners of this potential medicine claimed had “medicinal properties similar to those usually ascribed to sulphur springs.” Elsewhere in the Hudson Valley area, many other such springs could be found. Another such spring was discovered by the British in the nearby town of Newberry, where many of the new residents resided near a mill was built, owned and operated by Jacob Leisler. The hill nearby also bore a health-giving mineral spring which the locals believed could cure them of most if not all diseases. One early historian wrote of this spring: “Many persons who drank freely of it, have found great relief. It is chiefly useful in cutaneous diseases.”
During the later colonial years, claims about mineral springs and fresh, mountain waters were often one of the most effective ways to attract uncertain travellers to a new place. In that part of Manhattan that is today close to Spanish Harlem, there were the Harlem Springs. According to Loudon’s packet. many seemed to be quite attracted to this area before and after the Revolutionary War. BEcause the local population consisted mostly of urbanites, places like this were attractice and even quite impressive. A healthy seeming place is always better than an unhealthy place riddled with the stench of heavy human occupation, so thought the urbanites who might frequent such a place. Even then, one ability to become increasingly sick of the city setting in downtown New York City was enough to make you search for a place in a natural setting, far enough out there into the borderlands to have some peace and quiet for a while. Far enough out there to even take a dip back into these reminders of what many have nearly forgotten about concerning Nature, that palce where you have to strip off your colonial attire to make the best of the situation–all of that heavy attire.
Such natural settings often became very popular refuges for anyone living in or near the urban settings of New York, even if that urban setting is something as docile, simple and bustling as the center of the town of Pougkeepsie. This town setting was where numerous streams still trickled down into the river, in much the same way that they did when this place first got its new name from Apokeepsinck. This knowledge about the existence of trickling brooks and rivulets along the Poughkeepsie slopes gave new settlers residing down below in New York City a new place to try out. It also gave to old time landowners a new way to make more money off of their estates.
To most who were led into this new marketplace the process of paying someone to go to their rivulet, creek, or spring seemed much like the same kinds of practices carried out generations before. This practice reminded many of the values of certain European health water places as sources for new medicines, with a recipe that was original and one that only Nature or God could produce. Many of these local springs in the Hudson Valley would even be equated with medicinal waters from afar. Investors like the Livingstons took this marketing routine to their advantage even byhiring French scientists who were experts in chemistry to provide proof for the claims being made that these springs were very medicinal. This way even the best and worst of the local artesian springs and spillways could have the proof that was needed to say they were medicinal. Be this proof initiated by smell, taste, mouth feel or touch, it was usually followed up with some sort of fantastic study performed in order to compare it with the ancient spas back in Europe, be they Roman, Epsom or Glauber in form, chemistry and medical nature.
In the Hudson Valley, there was this other avenue often followed for defining the healthiest of springs. Back in Eastern Europe, Vincent Priessnitz had made the discovery that would later make water worth its weight in gold to some investors and land speculators. Preissnitz discoveries led to the philosophy that stated the use of cold water was very healthy for the body. He based this upon his observations of some deer and elk frequented the cold waters running off of nearby mountains. With this concept embedded in the local towns as early as the first part of the late-18th century (a early historian and New York physician notes a Scotsman as promoting it (ref?)), the first of the healing springs often heavily promoted became cold, fresh water mountain springs. So even the cold, late spring climates of Northern New York might due for finding yourself the cure.
Opposing this cold water cure concept of course were the supporters of Reverend Eliphalet Ball’s work with Saratoga. Between the cold Canadian border and the high elevation Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountain spots was the very hot waters from Ballston and Saratoga. So, along with the diversity of chemical make up that could be used for the cure, all temperature ranges for a water cure were now possible. ,This made it possible for any place with water to have some sort of medical claim attached to it. Such became the case in Poughkeepsie when a p;lace called New Ballstown was discovered, or better stated, invented. It would be here where the most famous waters from the hot sulphur springs of Ballston and later Saratoga and the fresh mountain waters of the Catskills and Highlands finally met up with their chief competitor. Years after the popularization of the water in Ballston, a similar source was found nearby in Poughkeepsie which came to be known as New Ballstown according to local newspapers.
New Balls-town Springs
Both Ballston and Saratoga were quite a success throughout the early 19th century, so much that other entrepreneurs wanted to capture a piece of the valetudinarian marketplace which led to this economic success. In the Poughkeepsie region, this made this sizeable town setting one of the most important places to travel to during a trip into the country. As the major commercial adventures which engaged this part of the Hudson Valley grew in size as the years passed, so too did the marketability of any water sources in Poughkeepsie. For this reason, several small rivulets in the Pine Avenue area were advertised in the Journal. Between 1800 and 1815, such claims made Poughkeepsie one of the best places to travel to from the city, where you could plan for a short stay or to stay for a night or two to freshen up, before travelling to other much further away places like Ballstown and Saratoga. The most popular palce in this setting was know as the New Ball-town (or New Ballstown, or New Ballston) Spa.
On December 30, 1807, the New Ball-Town medical springs were discovered in Poughkeepsie near the Hudson River. These New Ball-town Springs were then adjacent to a hotel. Their discoverer, James Trivett, used them to take on instant fame by advertising his discovery and naming the New Ball-town Hotel situated just above Richard’s Landing, the main stopover place for ships travelling by way of the Hudson River. Trivett claimed his water could be used for treating many different diseases.He then built a facility there which he kept open all day. According to his advertisement in the local paper, Political Barometer, “Thousands of Valetudinarians” willing to pay his fees were welcome to use this facility.
Aside from providing its newcomers with medicinal waters, this place was considered an excellent place for healings from chronic diseases to take place. It seemed to many to be a healthier environment. Built on an eminence overlooking the Hudson River, Trivett’s place was felt to be blessed by the health-giving westerly winds which blew in from across the Hudson River.
Like the Harlem Springs, the New Ballstown Springs were actually several small rivulets which descended a quaint little hill into the Hudson River. They were very much unlike the true Ballstown waters near Saratoga, which were heated and rich in minerals. James Trivett’s spa consisted of ordinary fresh, and somewhat chilly, spring water which was released in braids which the behavior of seemed rather unpredictable. These rivulets were by no means as spectacular as the Ballstown or Saratoga Springs and did not attract nearly as many valetudinarians as Reverend Ball’s hotel did. Still, the Poughkeepsie springs served members of the local and New York city populations, who like many others were by then in need of not only miracle cures, but the means to relax from an increasingly stressful life. Unlike Saratoga, New Ballstown Spa was within easy access of Manhattan by way of just a day’s trip by water.
Trivett then goes on to mention the various ailments his springs were used to treat. He describes his shower facilities, and his fees for their use “any time of the day.” The New Ball-town Hotel consisted of twelve rooms, eight fireplaces, and two ovens.
Trivett’s place has an ever-changing history to it. In the 1830s, the Assessment Rolls noted his house as a “Haunted House” then owned by Henry Bush. The haunted house notion of the Trivett estate was not new to Hudson valley history.With the re-emerging belief in spiritual healing taking place as well during this time, the public’s attentiveness to the paranormal of the Hudson Valley was at yet another peak in the regions fad histories.
Captain Lloyd’s House
The next peak in Hudson Valley mineral springs history came during the revival period in alternative healing following the Civil War. In 1869 a “Poughkeepsie Mineral Spring” was opened on South Clinton Street and made available for public use by its owner Captain Thomas S. Lloyd. During this spring’s first few years of existence, it was known about by a few people except for some local devoted followers who made frequent use of it. By 1877, Captain Lloyd renamed his waters “Crystal Spring,” and opened them under this new name for use by the general public.In the local business directory, Captain Lloyd was listed as an importer, a sea-captain and the Vice President of the Hudson River Iron Company,but with his success in selling his claims of the healing waters, Lloyd became one of the better known health care givers for this region.
As was the case for the Livingstons, Lloyd’s success came after he had Professor Chandler of Columbia College analyze its water. Professor Chandler found this water to be transparent, brilliant, odorless, and tasteless. Somehow this chemical finding about the water led Lloyd to conclude the advertisements for his place. He claimed his waters to be efficacious in providing a cure for rheumatism, dyspepsia and kidney diseases. Unfortunately all of this fame was abruptly halted when Lloyd lost the power of his spring, accidentally. While digging a hole through thirty feet of bedrock beneath his home, he released the pressure of this well and in due time emptied it completely of any water that could be effectively brought up to the surface. This forced him to close his medical spring. Two years later, Captain Lloyd died and his home was sold to the Dutcher family, who knowing little of this part of the home’s history, allowed any remaining clues to this history to be completely consumed by various actis of Nature.
REFERENCES & NOTES
Robert Bolton, Jr. History of the County of Westchester from its First Settlement to the Present Time. (New York: Alexander S. Gould, 1848), p. 362.
Note: New Castle Springs was located “four miles northeast of Sing Sing.” See p. 440.
Pol. Bar. Jan. 6, 1808, p.3, c.5.
In her article, Reynolds noted [Reynolds, Helen Wilkinson. "Physicians and Medicine in Dutchess County in the Eighteenth Century." YBDCHS, pp. 78-88. See p. 82]:
“Perhaps the spring or springs, discovered in 1807 had medicinal; properties, perhaps not. On the high ground on which most of the city of Poughkeepsie is built springs gave rise originally to several small streams which ran down grade to the river. Some of the streams are now covered over but many may be accounted for by the surveys of the city engineer.”
Pol. Bar. Jan. 6, 1808. p.2.
Like the haunted house reported in London just a few years earlier, speculation was made that other natural forces existed that were invisible to naked eye and which guided us into a state of health and well-being. Their presence was matched by both similar and totally opposing natural forces of Mother Nature which threatened human survival
J.H. Smith. History of Dutchess County. (1882), p. 93.
Vail’s Poughkeepsie City Directory. 1877-78.
See also History of Dutchess County, p. 93 (1882), and Vail’s Poughkeepsie City Directory. 1877-78.