The history of Sailor Springs, Illinois began with
Tom Sailor of Ohio who worked as a tanner and currier with his father until at the age of 26, he struck out on his own, going into the livestock trade and did very well for 22 years. Yet he always watched for new opportunities and always succeeded. In 1866 he went into the lumber and building business in Ohio and Michigan, his most successful venture until three years later when he lost everything in forest fires sweeping through the country. He needed something new.
He’d heard about Clay County in Illinois and the wild streams of the Wabash River, the rich soil, coal, building stone, lime, iron ore, clay suitable for pottery, timber and mineral waters. After a trip to Clay County, Tom knew what he needed to do.
His wife, Rebecca, had inherited property in Urbana, Ohio and after hearing what Tom had found in Illinois and knowing his spirit, obediently allowed her property to be exchanged for 400 acres seven miles north of Clay City, Illinois. The family soon settled in the low rambling fame house on part of the prairie now their own.
The land had much timber and many springs of running water, springs the Kickpoo Indian medicine men were known to have boiled down the waters to use the residuum for healing the sick. They believed the residue from these evaporated waters cured the most grave of any disease and relied on the mud from clay in the ravines from the springs was saturated with heavy deposits of minerals.
Pioneering settlers wouldn’t accept that the waters had medicinal powers and tried to shut out all animal life because it seemed that every time cattle or other stock drank at the springs, they would become sick. They believed that the waters were poisonous and possess evil spirits. The settlers preferred going a long way around the springs rather than pass near them. The waters were thought to be impregnated with milk sickness, and they were called “milk sick” springs. Fences were built around them to keep the livestock away.
In a few years Tom Sailor accumulated quite a lot of livestock. The water from the springs was need too much for Tom to continue letting superstition get the best of the situations. One morning he told Rebecca, “I intend to tear down the fences and turn the stock in to the water.”
Tom tore down the fencing and let the stock drink the water. After a few days, the cattle became sick and a few died. Rebecca didn’t chastise her husband, only felt sorry for him. But Tom didn’t give up. He refused to believe the water caused the cattle to become ill. The only way to find out was to have the water analyzed. That was in 1878.
The tests proved the water was not poisonous; in reality the medicine men were right. The waters were health giving, rich in minerals, sodium, magnesium, sulphuric and carbonic acids and salts. (Later it was surmised that the live-stock became ill from eating a poisonous snake-root growing around the springs.)
Tom Sailor was a man of ideas and considered the possibilities of prosperity which might originate therefrom. “If the Indians could heal their sick folks with water and mud from the land I now own,” he contemplated, “I can do the same for our people by furnishing them the same healing qualities for their ailments.” He told Rebecca, “We can build a sanatorium here with the ingredients we have at hand. You can nurse sick people. You’ve nursed our young’ns thru many a sickness – you are strong and patient and kind.”
Rebecca listened to her man. If there was any possible within her power that she could do to heal sick people, she was willing to help regardless of the riches it might eventually lead to.
With the losses Tom Sailor suffered, there wasn’t much capital with which to invest in the sanatorium venture. But Rebecca still had a little money. With it several crude cottages were erected on the land where the greatest number of springs were located and managed some advertising, mostly by word of mouth. People laughed and scorned them, some even fearing for Tom’s sanity, referring to him as “that crazy Tom Sailor.” Yet he and Rebecca continued working at the cottages and trying to convince people of the wonderful healing virtues of the springs. All their worldly possessions were tied up in the new venture, and in 1878 they moved from their farm on the prairie to the site of the grounds with the springs.
The grounds were beautifully wooded; air in the springtime sweet with the fragrance of wild flowers and there was plenty of drinking water. People became convinced the springs were not poisonous and the cottages were rented, mainly for the summer. For invalids, the serene beauty and the quietness of the place was ideal. When cottages were not available, tents were pitched for a rental fee. Picnicers were attracted to the grounds, and it was by paying that they were allowed to partake of the conveniences offered.
Patrons learned that there really were substances in the water from the springs that relieved their bodies of certain ailments. The waters contained a chemical constituent that acted properly on the human system in several different diseases. And there were nearly as many varieties of water as there were springs; some of them as fine as any artesian springs found in any country anywhere. From some of springs were constant emissions of gases which when caught in a cloth and held close to a lighted match caused a strong white light to ignite and quite by accident it was learned that the mud was saturated with minerals of healing quality. Before long, enough money was accumulated to make possible Tom’s original plan; erecting a small sanatorium. Tom named it “East Lynn.”
There was plenty to do in the new enterprise. Rebecca became the chief nurse in the newly established sanatorium. Their daughters and son helped as the sick and disabled came from far and wide to drink of the mineral springs, and after a reasonable length of stay with proper uses of different waters, baths, and mud directed by capable physicians, they were cured or relieved beyond the most sanguine expectations of themselves or relations. The Sailor springs became celebrated. Business grew to such an extent that Tom saw fit to take a partner and other help was needed.
In 1879 a man by the name of Daniel T. Short was a patient at the Springs. He was so readily healed by the magnetic waters that he wished to remain. By trade he was a hotel man, with hotels in Nashville, Illinois, Ashley, Illinois and Fairfield, Illinois. He saw the necessity for more and better accommodations as the place had rapidly increasing numbers of visiting patents and pleasure seekers. He entered into negotiations with the proprietors of the grounds. A first-class hotel, The Glenhouse” was built and Mr. Short leased it for ten years.
Through the 1880s there were little stores scattered around the countryside from which the farmers and their families conveniently traded. People came from various places to settle nearby permanently. Realizing there was a need for a trading center, Frank Smith, a former storekeeper of Clark Co. of Illinois established a first-rate store of general merchandise. Through his efforts, a post office was set up in the store; Mr. Smith was appointed the postmaster. Thence-forth, the little village was called “Sailor Springs.”
At that time Dr. Alexander Sprinkle Bowen began a summertime practice there with his office across the road from the Smith store located a little way south and east of the spring grounds providing crossroads at that section of the village.
In 1882, William L. Houston, a builder, brick mason and plasterer, arrived in Sailor Springs and purchased land from Henry Garst. Mr. Houston began building houses and later erected, a building to be used by the public in its religious worship. The same year Richard Hill, a blacksmith moved his family from Crawford County to Sailor Springs.
In 1883 Dr. Wilson H. Mahon came from Kinmundy to Sailor Springs a the request of the proprietors of the Springs. In the fall of that year he had a large building erected to house a drugstore business with an upstairs hall providing space for meeting purposes of different organizations. It was just east of the main entrance to the spring grounds on the northside of the road running east and west at the north edge of the grounds. About this time another blacksmith shop was established.
By then there were enough children in town for the mothers to get together a subscription school. It was located on main street running north and south. Later a fire destroyed the building. The classes were moved from one location to another until in 1884 a one-roomed frame school house was constructed at the north end of the village on land donated by Dr. Milo Black. The first teacher hired was a Phillip Erwin.
Newcomers continued moving in the area. More buildings were erected at Sailor Springs and new place of business were established. There were good livery stables where fine horses and vehicles were available at reasonable prices. William Sailor, son of Tom and Rebecca Sailor, was one of the town’s most enterprising livery men.
On the Spring grounds there was a continuous influx of guests; events moving along with such tremendous rate of speed that Tom Sailor found it difficult to keep pace, both physically and financially. Tom and his business partners for some time were not in agreement; constant wrangling adding much unpleasantness to an already worrisome situation. Then, through mysterious circumstances, the Glen House which had already been rebuilt because of a windstorm, was destroyed by fire. That ignited the smoldering ill will of all concerned resulting in the whole thing being offered for sale at a public auction.
One C.E. Hilts, his wife and small son, Irving, of St. Louis, MO. were frequent visitors at the Spring-Grounds, being guests at the hotels and partakers of the pleasantries afforded there. Mrs. Hilts, during their summer sojourns, was much attracted to the resort and when it became known that the place with the beautiful scenery and health-giving qualities was to be sold, she persuaded Mr. Hilts to purchase the grounds and all its business responsibilities. Mr. Sailor reserved in the deal the east portion of land adjacent to the road running north and south upon which land two large houses he had erected, including the one in which he and his family resided. So it was that in August of 1884, C.E. Hilts, a dark-haired, short, stocky built man with a mustache became the new owner and proprietor of the Spring-Grounds.
An expensive Sailor Springs Hotel was constructed on the grounds, furnished in excellent style and supplied with every possibility towards the comfort and convenience of its guests. The best viands that the country produced were set on the tables in spacious dining rooms and every effort made to make patrons satisfied and happy. Board and room ranged from $10 to $12 per week, including the use of the water. Mr. D.C. Siegrish, an experienced hotel man, was hired to manage the Sailor Springs Hotel.
The East Lynne Sanatorium and Hotel was thoroughly renovated and newly furnished from cellar to garret and put under the management of Dr. Pugh who had recently become a resident physician. The tables there were well spread with the best of victuals with board at the rate of $7.00 per week which included the right for use of the water. A first class bath house was located near one of the groups of springs and supplied with spring water for bathing purposes. With competent assistants, Dr. A.S. Bowen, resident physician, was in exclusive charge.
Either cold, hot, vapor, or medicated baths could be had as desired by the bather or directed by the physician. Prices ranged from 25 cents to one dollar. Bathing was one of the most important factors in the cure of disease at the Springs. The Bath House was equipped with Dr. Curren’s Depurating Tubs and provided with means for water, vapor, medicated or hot air baths. Also, tubs for plunge, hot or cold baths were supplied. After bathing, patrons were escorted to cooling rooms, and directed to remain there for a time before going out into open air. The water used for bathing was a combination of the water of several different springs and is pumped from a reservoir into elevated tanks and is conveyed by installing pipes to the tubs. A new patent process of heating allowed the temperature of the water to be easily regulated by the bather or attendant at hand.
A pagoda, beautiful in architectural design, was erected over each of the three locations –the gas spring, cathartic and the group of five springs, all creating a magnificence unsurpassed.
A large and expensive amusement hall was constructed for the use of the visitors at the Springs, providing such games as pool, billiards, and bowling.
A bottling house was built for the ease of shipping the waters and with the exception of the gas water, they could be shipped in casks, jugs, or bottles. Gas water could be shipped in bottles only. For a barrel of 22 gallons delivered by railway, the price was $3.50; a refill – $2.00. One case of three dozen pints was $4.00; a refill – $2.00. In connection with this establishment, there would be an experimental adventure toward evaporation of the spring waters using the residum as a formula basis in the form of a pill which enterprise, should it not prove too expensive, would evaluate into a merit of no small amount of importance.
There were 8 springs in constant use in the summer, all situated in a wooded grove providing natural shade on these beautiful grounds which were bordered by a wide and rolling prairie extending north and eastward as far as the eye could see. The open country was delightful and the pure air refreshing at all times.
Hacks and a mail line ran in connection with the daily trains from Clay City to and from the Springs.
Parties boarding outside the grounds were charged $1.00 per week in advance for use of the waters.
For occupation of the cottages on the grounds, a price of $1.00 a week per person was charged.
Continued – see C. 2
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Note from Mabel Rae: Many thanks to Beryl Rinehart who so graciously gave me permission to use her book, “Sailor Springs Story” published in 1956 in my own work. Without her deep research, the true story would never have been known. Thank you, Beryl!