Therapeutic Travel, part two: Healing Springs

Just as sanitariums existed before the advent of the railroad but became increasingly more prevalent and popular after a well-established railroad presence in the state, healing springs and spas enjoyed a similar vogue.  Some spas advertised their accessibility by listing which popular rail lines were located nearby and by providing coach service from the rail road station to the resort.


There were baths, spas, and springs located in many counties, but they were particularly concentrated in Western North Carolina, the Piedmont, and the Sandhills region.  Different types of springs boasted different services and medicinal properties:  some mineral waters were meant for bathing, some were meant for drinking and food preparation, and others were for both.  Some spas were seasonal, while others were year-round.


These spas featured luxurious accommodations, including hotel buildings with large verandas and balconies were popular, and spring houses and pavilions allowed visitors to enjoy the outdoors with comfort.  In addition to different therapeutic services, the resorts also provided different social and recreational activities for their guests, including music, dancing, games, and outdoor activities.  Cooking and cuisine were also a big draw for these resorts, and the chef’s name and style is sometimes advertised.


In a NC Historical Review article about Catawba Springs, Chalmers G. Davidson writes, “the therapeutic value of the Springs was constantly played up in the journals, although there is little evidence that the healing of more than ennui was accomplished” (1951).

You can view more images of springhouses in the NC Postcard Collection here.

One thought on “Therapeutic Travel, part two: Healing Springs”

  1. This post reminded me of Rachel Maines’ 1999 academic work, The technology of orgasm : “hysteria,” the vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction, (call no. in Davis, if anyone is interested HQ29 .M35 1999 )! In her book, Maines traces the historical development of ‘hysteria,’ how it entered the sphere of medicine, and ultimately how it culminated in ‘everyday technology.’

    Tracing the history, however, Maines mentions that ‘therapeutic spas,’ during the turn of the twentieth century, while masked as social gathering spots for the upper bourgeoisie/elite classes, were also sites of prescribed medical treatment for hysteria. Yes, I am implying that heat and heavy bubbles predated our modern-day Adam and Eve shops…which, as I’m sure our nc history buffs know, originated in our very own Chapel Hill.

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