HLOM Feature: The wondrous waters of Alabama Springs

Mar 4, 2015

Sour Springs water The Oak Orchard Sour Springs, located near the center of the area, which is now the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, has a history dating back to the early 1800s. This area had nine separate springs. Each spring was found to have a different content.  The breakdown by major content showed there was one sulfur spring, one magnesia, one iron, and three acid (though each one was of different composition).  There was also a spring that emitted gas sufficient to light 50 burners simultaneously.  The ninth spring was crystal clear and tasted slightly sweet. In 1816 Alexander Koon was returning to Shelby from Batavia on a cold winter night.  The streams were frozen over so when he came to a knoll with several running springs, he stopped to water his horse.  The horse would not drink the water.  Alex tasted the water and found it tasted like “rancid weak vinegar, having a very disagreeable taste.” In 1821 an Indian brought some of the water to Dr. Whaley in Shelby Center. He claimed that if cuts were washed out with this water, they healed rapidly and a Medicine Man was not needed. About 1840 New York investors came up by Canal Packet and inspected the springs.  In 1844 they purchased the springs and surrounding land. They started bottling water, putting each different spring in a different colored glass bottle.  The bottles were tinted blue, green, amber, yellow and black.  Embossed on the bottles was the identity of the glass factory and “Oak Orchard Acid Springs.” ‘The bottles were shipped all over the country.  Sales reached 25,000 bottles at 25 cents each in 1849. As the sales of bottled water took off, the owners of the property built a 37-room hotel nearby and piped water from the springs for bathing.  A porch wrapped around the three sides of the hotel known as “Spring House.”  A large ballroom and dance hall took up much of the third floor.  A plank road led up to the springs and the hotel. One of the investors, Thomas Olcott of Albany, eventually became sole owner of the springs buying out its partners in 1856. The medicinal properties of the spring water appealed especially to southern people who visited the hotel every summer.  At that time the springs were almost as famous as those at Saratoga. When the Civil War broke out, the springs lost all of their southern customers.  Thomas Olcott abandoned the spa about the same time. In 1912 the hotel was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. All that remains from this endeavor are the glass bottles that once contained the miraculous water that was made famous from the springs in Alabama.  These bottles are now rare collector’s items. The land that once housed Genesee County’s biggest tourist attraction of the 19th Century was sold to the federal government and is now the center of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Alabama Historical Society Museum has a collection of bottles in their museum from Sour Springs.  Please visit their museum located in the Alabama Town Hall, 2218 Judge Road, and Route 63 in South Alabama. For more information on the Alabama Museum please contact Joe Cassidy, the town historian. (This article was written and researched by Anne Marie Starowitz.  Information for this article was made available from the files of the Genesee County History Department. ) Article from The Daily News and taken from http://www.thedailynewsonline.com/news/article_169f7a62-bb26-11e4-a642-ffd21af28dc5.html