building of the week – bethesda springhouse and park
The first recorded mention of the springs in Waukesha came in 1834, when some of the workers for the Topographical Bureau of the U.S. Government crew had taken ill and were taken to the springs in hopes of finding a cure. They followed the Fox River to what was very likely the site of Bethesda Spring. Here they saw more than one hundred Potawatomi drinking, bathing in, and transporting water from the spring.1
Popularized by Colonel Richard Dunbar in 1868, the curative powers of Bethesda Spring resulted in rapid growth of the mineral springs industry. During the Springs Era in Waukesha, many springs were opened to the public and an entire culture of health tourism brought thousands of tourists from all over the world to stay at lavish spas and hotels. Springhouses protected the purity of the water and marked the locations of the springs.
Photograph of Bethesda Spring
The bottling and selling of Bethesda Spring water began in the 1870’s. In 1900 the water won honorable mention at the Universal Exposition of the French Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Although the bottling company changed hands a number of times, the water was sold until 1997, when the company finally closed.2
Images of Bethesda water bottles
The Spring Era came to an end in the early 1900’s, as modern medicine debunked the claims of the healing powers of spring water, and the personal automobile led to changes in the way that Americans vacationed. At Bethesda Park today, a simple brick structure covers the spring.3
3 Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, E.C. Kropp Co., Postcard Bethesda Spring, Image ID 37212. Viewed online at http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=Ny:True,Ro:0,N:4294963828-4294955414&dsNavOnly=Ntk:All%7cbethesda+park%7c3%7c,Ny:True,Ro:0&dsRecordDetails=R:IM37212&dsDimensionSearch=D:bethesda+park,Dxm:All,Dxp:3&dsCompoundDimensionSearch=D:bethesda+park,Dxm:All,Dxp:3