By: Loring Bullard
A visitor today to Pertle Springs in Warrensburg, Missouri would probably not be impressed with the old mineral spring found there. Gurgling out into a concrete basin, the spring water is somewhat repulsive—smelling of rotten eggs and imparting orange stains to leaves and rocks in its path. If someone suggested the visitor taste the water, she might hesitate. There is a heightened awareness of water pollution these days, and besides, her instincts might tell her not to put anything that looks or smells that way into her mouth. And yet, at one time, thousands of people came here to do just that. They were led to believe, and many did believe, that these waters could heal. Standing in the quiet valley of the Pertle Spring, it is hard to imagine the hubbub that once surrounded this place. In its heyday, the Pertle Springs resort catered to thousands of health and pleasure seekers. There were amusements of all sorts and huge
gatherings—Fourth of July picnics, Chatauquas, temperance rallies, free-silver conventions, camp meetings. So heavy was visitation on summer weekends that several times a day, a special train hauled patrons from the nearby town of Warrensburg. Pertle Springs was one of the better known and more successful mineral water resorts in Missouri. But during the height of the medicinal water craze, from about 1880 to 1920, nearly eighty mineral water health resorts were sprinkled around the state. These businesses were prominent landmarks, drawing clients from all over the Midwest and beyond. Most offered mineral waters for both drinking and bathing “cures,” healing patients from both the inside and the outside. Promoters of the era made highly exaggerated claims for the healing powers of mineral waters. But these claims fell within the commonly accepted practices of the day, such as advertisements for the hundreds of patent medicines on the market at the time, servicing nearly every ailment known to mankind. And despite the prevalent medicine-show like aura of advertising, belief in the medical virtues of mineral waters was not confined to the uneducated. During the heyday, respected doctors prescribed mineral waters and prominent scientists advanced theories supporting their use.
|Hotel Minnewawa, Pertle Springs, Warrensburg, Missouri|
|Lake Cena, Pertle Springs, Warrensburg, Missouri|
|Lake Cena, Pertle Springs, Warrensburg, Missouri|
Pertle Springs Resort a distant memory in Warrensburg
Story by LISA HANDKE, Photo by CHRIS EVERSOLE
A thriving tourist destination at the turn of the 20th century, Pertle Springs Resort drew thousands of guests to its healing waters, massive hotel, auditorium, lecture halls and zoo. A special train line was even run from Warrensburg that took travelers from all over Missouri and other states to the Springs. Legend has it that Native Americans considered the water at what is now Pertle Springs to be health-giving, and they would camp there to drink from it. The land was eventually settled by William S. Purtle, who dammed the springs and created the first lake there. Hence, the Springs became known as Purtle Springs. Purtle then shipped mineral water to “nearly every state in the Union,” according to a Warrensburg Daily Star Journal article from 1987. That article reported that an A. F. Zimmerman owned the land next, then a man named James A. Christopher bought the land and turned it into a resort in the 1880s. He set up a springhouse for people to take in the waters, and built the Hotel Minnewawa – Native American for “healing waters” – in 1884. Other archived news articles spelled the name Hotel Miniwawa, but all accounts report that the facility could accommodate 300 people.
The place’s name changed to Pertle Springs after Christopher’s surveyor, a Mr. Gallagher, suggested that was a “pleasanter spelling,” the newspaper article reported. It is unknown what year the spelling of the name changed.
Christopher continued his vision for the resort by building a public auditorium at the Springs that could hold 3,000 people. The auditorium was used frequently for religious revivals and meetings, so it was sometimes called the Tabernacle. A well-known religious group from New York, The Chautauquas, traveled to the resort regularly to hold revivals. Besides religious events, the Springs hosted public lectures, speeches, concerts, group reunions, and even state and national conventions. The Peace Jubilee for ex-soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies was held there in 1898. In 1905, orator William Jennings Bryan gave his famous free silver speech in the auditorium. Bryan pushed for the “free and unlimited coinage of silver,” a big issue in 1906, according to a Johnson County Historical Society bulletin from 1959. More and more visitors came to the resort, so Christopher added more buildings. He added the Hall of Philosophy, the Normal Hall for Chautauqua Classes, the Children’s Temple for the State Sunday School Association, and the St. Louis Pagoda to provide more room for religious classes and public-interest speeches.
In 1892, 50 rooms were added to the Hotel Minnewawa, and Christopher built some guest cottages. A newspaper article reported that tents could also be rented for $4 per season, and campers could pay an extra dollar for a board floor. Horse or mule teams could graze in the Spring’s bluegrass pastures for five cents a day. In 1889, Christopher bought tracks from the Wichita Railroad and made what was dubbed the “Dummy Line,” a steam engine that pulled three 70-passenger railcars. The Dummy Line left from the Estes Hotel that was located across from the depot, at Grover and Holden Streets in Warrensburg, and took passengers to the resort. The Star Journal reported that the line made eight trips a day, more when conventions were going on. The Missouri Pacific Railroad offered special rates for vacationers headed to Pertle Springs. A round trip from St. Louis was reportedly $6.95 in the 1890s. The lush, attractive land encouraged tourists to picnic and enjoy water activities like fishing, swimming and boating, even ice skating in the winter. In 1912, the site had nine man-made lakes, one used specifically for mineral bathing. Christopher went on to build five bowling alleys, a gymnastics hall and a small zoo on the grounds, according to the Star Journal. The zoo housed peacocks, monkeys, one bear and one bald eagle.
The resort thrived until the 1920s. By then, the invention of the automobile and the radio allowed people to discover new means of entertainment. The Warrensburg State Normal School – today the University of Central Missouri – grew in size and began putting on plays and lectures, which competed with the resort’s shows. Tourist numbers declined quickly, and the Dummy Line stopped running in 1922. In 1926, the Hotel Minnewawa burnt down, devastating what was left of the resort. Four years later, a new Pertle Springs Lodge was built on the spot, but it didn’t hold the grandeur of the Minnewawa. In 1959, the university, at that time called Central Missouri State College, bought the land from Christopher’s heirs, Florence Parker and Cena Draper. The college paid $40,000 for the 300 acres, according to published reports. The railroad tracks and all other equipment were removed in 1960, and Pertle Springs was used as a recreation area for students. The university built the Keth Memorial Golf Course in the park in 1961. Pertle Springs Lodge was leveled in 1980, due to lack of use and disrepair. There was a swimming pool there in the ‘80s, but that too has disappeared. Today, Pertle Springs is a nature conservation area of the University of Central Missouri. The ROTC program uses the area for training, and students use it for ecological research. The golf course has undergone several renovations and is still running successfully. The remains of the Lodge can be seen on the hill across from Lake Cena, and the springhouse is visible nearby. If you look carefully, you can see where the zoo’s cage areas were, down the hill from the hotel.
Now but a faded memory
The demise of the Pertle Springs Resort was an unfortunate loss for Warrensburg. The mineral waters and other attractions used to draw tourists’ attention from across the nation. Old postcards of the Springs, Lake Cena and the Dummy Line on file at the Historical Society depict long-forgotten scenes; the students and community members who fish and picnic at Pertle Springs today may have a hard time imagining what it used to be. The families relaxing on the sunny grounds in their Sunday best after traveling all day to get there, the distinguished hotel, the springhouse, the lecture halls, the zoo and its animals, the bowling alleys, the concerts and religious revivals--all have faded into the past. The glory of the old Pertle Springs Resort can now only be seen on those long-ago postcards and a mural at the corner of Holden and Market Streets downtown. More information about the history of Pertle Springs can be found at the Johnson County Historical Society.