Early Examples


One of the earliest reflections of the benefits of the water of New Netherlands was provided by Guilielmus Baudartius as a part of his review of the “First Emigrants to New Netherland” [Original title: Gedenkwaardige Geschiedenissen zo kerkelyke als wereldlyke. 2 vols. fol. Arnhem. 1624.]    After several months surviving on board a vessel on very limited basic food supplies and putrid water stored in oak barrels, the impressions that the natural resources and fresh water can give to new settlers is quite gratifying:  “We were much gratified arriving in this country; Here we found beautiful rivers, bubbling fountains flowing down the valleys; basins of running waters in the flatlands, agreeable fruits in the woods, such as strawberries, pigeon berries, walnuts, and also voor labrusten or wild grapes.” [E.B. O’Callaghan.  The Documentary History of the State of New-York.  Arranged under Direction of the Hon. Christopher Morghan, Secretary of State. Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1851.  Vol. IV.  p. 132.]

These impressions would continue to be provided during the next several decades. 

New Castle Springs as an Example

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.”  

Castle Point was probably not the first of the local waters used as medicine.  If we take Native American history into consideration, the first of these types of “medicines” may not be easy to determine.  The use of mineral, carbonated and mountain water for healing is a long-standing tradition in medicine.  

New Sweden

Once the Scandinavians began making their way into the Hudson Valley borderlands and rustic wilderness edges, a new philosophy was brought into this region due to the old-time history of New Sweden.  New Sweden was actually claimed for the more southern areas surrounded by Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.  But this territory also had claims made of it by Dutch explorers, who for a short time theoretically took over once their colonial governors were put in charge.  But by the late 1600s this New Netherlands history was short-lived due to the English claims to this region as well, a consequence of Sir Walter Raleigh’s travels through the mid-Atlantic Carolina and Virginia coastline region during the late 16th century.  A small dispute ensued, the Dutch for a short while took their claimed lands back from British Royalty, only to surrender it again to the British very soon thereafter.

Throughout all of these political debates, the Swedes and Finns made their quiet stay in the distant borderland and hinterland hilltops of several heavily wooded regions.  As a part of this habitation process they more than likely engaged in the traditional Scandinavian hot, dry air-cold water practices as a part of their medical practices.  Unfortunately Pedr Kalm provides just a little insight into the Scandinavian traditions of these Pennsylvania and New York settings.  These events are dated to about 1749-1750, the time of his travel and subsequent writing experiences.

Hudson Valley as a “Water Cure” center

In Hudson Valley history, a number of these fairly small springs became popular.  There were several cultural routes that this discipline could take to becoming a piece of the America culture.   There is of course that long barely mentioned importance of Native American history of traditions that relate to some fo the most famous of the local water cure sites.  But there are also the influences of Scottish physicians who seemed to marvel at this philosophy and accept it more openly and publicly than any British physician might have admitted.  Then there are the American-born people with entrepreneurial behaviors, wants and needs.  Many springs and healing waters were sold in some way shape or form.  In some cases one could buy tickets to go to such a place (Harlem Springs).  Other times you had to stay at a hotel (Ballston and Saratoga).  Still other situations required that you get your water only in the form of some tonic or bottled fizzy.   

Even in the most local settings where a spring never became nationally popular during this time (national, of course, meaning only a few states), there were springs constantly being promoted, written about and tested.  Every article published during this time about the health of a given town, region or environmental setting had to make mention of the local springs that were found.  Moreover, a lot of times the news about these new discoveries became important news features for the Poughkeepsie Journal to publish.  This physicians’ behavior of having to describe and often test the springs in their areas of residency also meant that by putting the name of this spring in the medical journal for the time–Medical Repository out of New York City–this meant that you had a chance some people were going to wish to try or taste your waters, take a plunge into your creek or stream, or even gather your waters for health-related reasons and consumption at home.   In a Biblical sense, water had much meaning to the residents of the valley.  In a purely physical sense, water was requried for their survival and the survival of their farm-raised plants and animals.

There are three kinds of springs that played an important role in Hudson Valley medical history. 

  • First, there were the small very local mountain water springs and unique sulphur and other chemically distinct springs of the valley and its neighboring topography. 
  • Second, there are the world famous sulphur springs of Ballston and Saratoga, both of which helped to produce one of the most important  travel routes from lower New York to the heart of upper New York state east of the finger lakes and Catskill Mountains.   
  • Third, there were springs developed in the Poughkeepsie area that helped to turn it into an escape from New York known as New Ballstown around 1800.

Equally important was the fact that the concepts of “water cure” in the Hudson Valley also had another avenue that was taken, one which led to the develop first of a new kind of physician during the late 1700s and early 1800s, but soonafter also led to the creation fo a new non-allopathic form of medicine to be taught and promoted in the Hudson Valley–Preissnitz’s Water Cure. This method of healing became quite popular to women, and thereby helped set the stage for several important contributions women would later make to medicine concerning sanitation and understanding the germ theory before disease, long before the true “germ” of modern medicine–the bacterium–was first identified as a true pathogen, sometime between 1875 to 1879 (although “discovered”, it took a while for the proof to be indisputable and the claim to fame to be officially defined).

Local Water Cure Leaders

The following physicians and non-physicians of the region had some sort of history, writing or personal family records indicating they were somehow directly linked to the common water cure traditions of the Hudson Valley (most are covered somewhere else on this site).

  • Reverend Eliphalet Ball – mid to late 17oos, Ballston next to Saratoga
  • The Livingstons – late 1700s, Columbia County
  • Shadrach Ricketson, Quaker physician – late 1700s, early 1800s, Dutchess County and later New York City
  • James Trivett, hotel owner and keeper – Late 1700s, very early 1800s, Poughkeepsie
  • Dr. David Arnell – Medical Topographer and Climatologist, Orange County, near Scotchtown
  • Joel and Elizabeth Shew – Water Cure practitioners, Long ISland and later lower Putnam and Westchester Counties, 1840-1855
  • Orson Fowler(?) – Promoted various forms of healthy living, and “natural” and “spiritual” healing, 1845-1870
  • Captain Thomas S. Lloyd – Healthy waters spring formed rivulet on his property in Poughkeepsie, about 1865-1875; ceased due to ground maintenance work which cracked the bedrock leading the water to an artesian well site.