By Jared Olar
About a month ago we recalled the drilling of the artesian well in the early 1880s that gave Mineral Springs Park its name. This week we’ll take a closer look at the park’s first well and its location.
As we learned previously, following the drilling of the well in 1882, a bath house was built in 1883, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added. The bath house enabled people to bathe in the artesian well’s mineral waters, which were believed to have medicinal properties.
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (page 138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south (sic – north) of the Methodist Church.” This is precisely where the Miller Senior Center is today, to the west of the lagoon. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well was located near the old swimming pool, but does not locate it any more precisely than that.
However, using reference materials such as old maps and photographs in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, it is possible to determine exactly where the original well, fountain, and bath house were.
In the library’s collection of old atlases and maps, Mineral Springs Park makes its first appearance on the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas’ map of Pekin. In those days the eastern border of the park was just past Coal Car Drive, and the park roads and paths (unpaved back then) formed loops around and to the east the lagoon.
On the west side of the lagoon, though, the map shows a prominent structure that, by a comparison with two photographs of the lagoon and the original park swimming pool from Henry Hobart Cole’s 1890s compilation of vintage photographs entitled “Pekin and Environs,” can confidently be identified as the park’s pool and bathhouse.
The map also shows a simple circle on the north side of the pool and bathhouse, and on the south side of the park’s western entrance off 14th Street, but does not identify what the circle represents. However, the maps of Pekin in the 1910 and 1929 Tazewell County atlases label that circle with the word “fountain.” It is also very significant that these early maps show Spring Street extending all the way east to an intersection with 14th Street. Although Spring Street now dead-ends at the Miller Center parking lot, its name is a clue to the location of the original well, because “Spring” Street got its name from the fact that it led up to Mineral Springs Park’s western entrance, which was adjacent to the park’s original mineral spring.
Old photographs of the spring and fountain in the Local History Room collection show what the well and fountain looked like – it was wide, encircled by a paved concrete walkway, with two drinking fountains at the north and south ends.
What became of the original well? On that point, all that the 1974 Sesquicentennial volume says is that the spring-fed fountain “has long since been removed,” and that, “The initial well for the park is long since inoperative.”
By the 1930s the Pekin Park District saw the need to build a new swimming pool and bath house, so a new well was drilled off east of the lagoon in 1935, and a new pool was built in the vicinity of the new well. That pool remained in use, with occasional modifications and repairs, from 1937 to 1992, when it was replaced by the DragonLand water park.
When the new well was dug and the new pool built, the old well was no longer situated in a good location and was not adequate for the park’s needs, so it was sealed off and covered over. Today the former site of the old fountain and well in front of the Miller Center’s entrance is occupied by an old sculpted and decorative metal planter, and, probably not coincidentally, the planter looks more like a miniature fountain or fancy bird bath than a planter. Most Pekinites who drive by the lagoon on 14th Street every day probably pass the Miller Center without noticing the planter that marks the site of Mineral Springs Park’s original spring.
As for the 1935 bath house, on page 5 of the “Pekin Park District Centennial” special section that was published in the July 16, 2002 Pekin Daily Times, a photo caption says, “The Mineral Springs Bath House operated in 1935 for mineral tub baths, steam baths, massages and other health treatments. The bath house artesian well water was believed to contain minerals beneficial to health, but the bath’s popularity waned as the public changed its attitude about the curative powers of mineral water.”