Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Does anything remain of the "once famous" Wilcox Mineral Springs resort?

One of the two Wilcox Mineral Springs hotels.
A week or so ago, I found myself at the Monroe County Library in Monroeville, looking over some 110-year-old editions of The Monroe Journal newspaper. It was there that I stumbled across an item that many Wilcox County history buffs will find interesting.

In the July 11, 1907 edition of The Journal, editor Q. Salter published a large display advertisement that read as follows – “WILCOX MINERAL SPRINGS is now open for the season. The health-giving properties of these waters can be vouched for by many who have been benefitted by them. A hack line to and from the depot to meet the trains morning and evening. Every arrangement for the comfort and entertainment of guests will be carefully looked after. Special terms by the week, month or season, can be had on application to G.W. Stuart, Proprietor, Schuster, Alabama.”

I penciled all of this down in my notebook, and when I got home I searched my shelves for a book called “Historic Alabama Hotels & Resorts” by James F. Sulzby Jr. This 294-page book, which was originally published by the University of Alabama in 1960, describes over 50 old Alabama hotels and resorts, including Wilcox Mineral Springs.

According to Sulzby, who died in 1988 at the age of 82, the “once famous” Wilcox Mineral Springs was located about a mile from the east Wilcox County town of Schuster, which was about halfway between the Louisville & Nashville Railroad stations at Pine Apple and McWilliams. In 1903, entrepreneur George Washington Stuart constructed two hotel buildings at the site after finding four natural mineral springs that bubbled up out of the ground within a space of about 50 square yards.

Stuart, who ran the establishment with his wife Sallie, officially opened the resort on July 4, 1904, and this grand opening was such a big event that the L&N Railroad ran a special train all the way from Mobile to Schuster to accommodate the large crowds. When they arrived, guests found the natural springs covered by pavilions, an amphitheater that could seat 1,500 spectators, a bandstand, a dance pavilion, a baseball park with a grandstand, a five-acre pine grove with picnic tables and other fine accommodations.

For a time, crowds flocked to the resort because Stuart claimed that, like the pure waters at famous resorts like Hot Springs, Arkansas, the natural springs near Schuster were healthy and helped relieve a variety of ailments including bowel troubles, Bright’s Disease, cystitis, diabetes, dyspepsia, gastritis, gout, indigestion, irritable bladder, kidney troubles, nerve problems, rheumatism and stomach problems. The resort, which was also known as Schuster Springs, thrived for a time, but the crowds eventually began to thin, and the business took a major hit after one of the hotel buildings burned in 1908 followed by other fires that destroyed the bandstand and dance pavilion.

Sallie Stuart eventually passed away at the age of 60 on May 8, 1916, and her husband, George W. Stuart, passed away at the age of 79 on Sept. 7, 1931. They are both buried in the Ackerville Cemetery, about 15 miles east of Camden. By the time Sulzby’s book came out in 1960 only a few crumbling foundations were said to mark where the old Wilcox Mineral Springs hotel buildings once stood, and three of the four mineral springs had ceased to flow. I suspect that the site has changed even more during the past 57 years.

In the end, I’d like to hear from readers in the audience with more information about the Wilcox Mineral Springs and the Stuarts. Are there any visible remnants of the old resort remaining in the woods near Schuster? What became of the old baseball field and amphitheater? Does the last “health-giving” spring still bubble from the ground there or have any of the other three springs returned?

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