This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.
The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park
By Jared Olar
The Pekin Park District was established in 1902, but the history of Pekin’s parks in fact begins 20 years earlier, when Mineral Springs Park – called “the jewel in the crown” of the Park District system by “Pekin: A Pictorial History” – was founded as a privately-owned park.
Mineral Springs Park gets its name from an artesian well that was bored in 1882 to provide a water source for the planned park. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 943-945, tells the story of the founding of Mineral Springs Park and the creation of the Pekin Park District. Like many other improvements to Pekin at that time, the establishment of Pekin’s first park is credited to Thomas Cooper.
Allensworth writes, “In the spring of 1882 a citizens’ meeting was held in Pekin, for the purpose of taking into consideration the organizing of a company, purchasing ground, laying out a park and boring an artesian well. Thomas Cooper was selected as Chairman and A. B. Sawyer, Secretary. Henry Roos, John Caufman and William Prettyman were appointed a committee to see contractors and get prices for boring a well 1,000 feet deep. . . . Forty-five lots were bought in East Addition, besides ten acres in the south side bought from Frank E. Rupert, making altogether something over 40 acres.
“Thomas Cooper was made President and A. B. Sawyer Secretary of the company. A contract was made for boring a well to a depth of 1,000 for $1,900; but when down 990 feet, the drill broke and, after a long and tedious wait, a settlement was made with the contractor for $1,500. Salt water was struck at a depth of 400 feet. It ran out of the pipe at the surface for some time and then settled back about twenty feet from the surface.”
In his account, Allensworth goes into some detail about the drilling of the well and the purported medicinal properties of the water.
“The well is 990 feet deep. Flowing water was struck at a depth of 850 feet. It is cased with 4-inch pipe down to bed rock, which is 250 feet deep. A coal vein was struck at 250 feet, and below this was rock and shale under the Niagara Limestone was reached, in which was the water, as this stone was like honey-comb. The flow is 400,000 gallons every 24 hours, and the temperature of the water, as it comes from the well, is 72 degrees F.
“The medicinal properties of this spring are highly attested by no less a personage than Dr. Emil Pfeifer, head physician in the Weisbaden (Germany) sanitarium, who, in a letter to the owner, Mr. Henry Schnellbacher, says of it: ‘From the analysis of the spring owned by you, I find that it nearly resembles the spring of Baden-Baden. You do not state the temperature of the spring. The same is naturally warm, and will produce the same effects of Baden-Baden, or Wiesbaden, especially in gout, rheumatism, stomach troubles or sick headache.’”
“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 78, also notes that “Some families remember their parents bringing home gallons of the well water, believing it had ‘healing properties.’ The children remembered it smelled and tasted like ‘rotten eggs,’ but they still drank it.”
According to Allensworth, about 3,000 trees were then planted and a lake – the Mineral Springs Park lagoon – was “scraped out.” In 1883, a bath house was built, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added, “and the people of Pekin were happy in having a fine park, without cost to the citizens.”
Misfortune befell the Mineral Springs Park company in the form of a destructive tornado, which “blew down the bath house and the pagoda; also a fine band-stand, which left the company in bad shape,” Allensworth writes.
“No money could be raised to pay the indebtedness. It was then that Mr. Cooper took hold, paid the bills, bought up the stock, put up a new up-to-date building on the east side of the lake, repaired the bath-house and again had everything in good shape. Before this he made an offer to the City Council to sell the park to the city for $6,000, but the offer was rejected. Mr. Cooper sometime after this sold it to Fred and Henry Schnellbacher and Henry Saal for $9,000. Soon after this a fire burned the large club house. It was then offered to the City for $13,000, but by vote was rejected.”
Proponents of a public park district tried again in 1902. The Pekin Park District was established by a vote of 633-111 in a special election on Oct. 28, 1902. The Pekin Park District Commissioners then agreed on May 12, 1903, to purchase Mineral Springs Park from Henry Schnellbacher for $22,500.