A closer look at Mineral Springs Park’s first artesian well

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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.

A man collects water from the original artesian well and fountain of Mineral Springs Park in this old photograph that was reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

This 1890s photograph of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon shows the park pool and bath house on the west side of the lagoon. A tall pole next to the pool facility marks the site of the park’s original artesian well. In the distance on the right side of the picture is the factory of Cummings Harvester Works, formerly located at the corner of Christopher Street and Highland Avenue.

The original Mineral Springs Park pool and bath house are shown in this photograph taken by Henry Hobart Cole in the 1890s.

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.

This map from the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows Mineral Springs Park, then only in existence for nine years. A simple circle to the west of the lagoon (“Artesian Lake”) and on the east side of 14th Street, marks the site of the park’s mineral spring and fountain.

Old streets and several other details from the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park have been added to this current Google Maps satellite image. The site of the original park pool and bath house are indicated in yellow and hatching. The site of the original artesian well and fountain is marked with a black circle near the center of the map.

What was shown as an unmarked circle on the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park is identified as the park fountain in this 1910 map of the park.

The boundaries of Mineral Springs Park are shown to have expanded significantly in this 1929 map of the park. But the old fountain, park pool, and bath house still remain on the west side of the park lagoon.

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.

The photograph, which was reproduced on a postcard from about 1916, shows the old spring-fed fountain that once existed on the west side of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon. The site is today marked by a sculpted metal planter in front of the Miller Senior Center.

Water sprays up in the old Mineral Springs Park fountain in this vintage photograph that was reproduced July 13, 2002, in the Pekin Daily Times’ special section on the Pekin Park District’s 100th anniversary.

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.

Out in front of the Miller Senior Center is this decorative metal fountain, used as a planter, marking the site of the former Mineral Springs Park fountain and artesian well.

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The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park

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
Library assistant

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.”

This 1882 photograph shows the drilling of the artesian well that gives Mineral Springs Park in Pekin its name.

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.

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Three public pools for Pekin

With the news this week of the uncovering of a portion of Pekin’s first public swimming pool during construction at the Miller Senior Center, we thought some might like to read again one of our old Local History Room columns on this subject, first published in August 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Three public pools for Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A new school year has begun and the end of summer is approaching, but there will probably still be some time to go swimming before the cooler weather of autumn sets in. In Pekin, for the past two decades, DragonLand Water Park in Mineral Springs Park has been the primary place for fun in the water.

Prior to the construction of DragonLand, though, Mineral Springs Park had two different earlier public swimming pools. According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002), p.82, the origin Pekin pool was built in 1882. However, that date is a mistake. The park began in 1882, but, as the 1949 “Pekin Centenary” makes clear (p.131), it wasn’t until later in the 1880s that the first park swimming pool was built.

“Three thousand trees were soon set out in the newly purchased 40 acre tract, a lagoon scraped out, and in 1883 a bath house was erected,” the Pekin Centenary says. “During the next years were constructed a swimming pool, a pagoda, and roads and fountains; and the people of Pekin were happy to have a fine park without cost to the citizens.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (p.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 where the Miller Senior Center is today. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well, from which Mineral Springs Park derives its name, was located near the old swimming pool.

“Bathhouses surrounded the pool so there was not much room to ‘lay out’ in the sun (as some girls still remember from the 1930s). The bathhouse was built with two wings, each containing six tubs, two showers and two treatment rooms,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

By the mid-1930s, the need was obvious for a new, larger public pool. The Pekin Centenary says, “In the summer of 1935, after a second sulphur well had been sunk to a depth of 1,080 feet to establish an adequate water supply, a new 532,000 gallon capacity outdoor pool was constructed, the second largest in the state and one of the finest in the Middle West. In May 1937, the pool project was completed with the opening of a splendid new bath house at a total cost of $150,000 including the pool. The new bath house has 15,000 square feet of floor space, 12 individual tub rooms, 13 private dressing rooms for women swimmers and hot and cold mineral water for tubs and shower baths.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” adds that the new pool included a slide, and “was 60 feet wide, 160 feet long with a diving wing on each side 17 feet wide and 30 feet long. Filled daily with fresh sulphur water and holding 532,000 gallons of water, the new pool was located behind the Park District offices. Check rooms provided baskets for 756 women swimmers and an equal number of men swimmers. It also had public showers and dressing rooms.”

That pool continued to serve the community for almost six decades, though it underwent renovations from time to time. Finally, in 1992, the 1937 pool was retired and replaced with DragonLand. The new water park was built southeast of the old pool, and a new miniature golf park, Magic Dragon Golf and Games, was constructed on the site of the pool.


This photograph shows Pekin’s original public swimming pool, which was located where the Miller Senior Center stands today across from the lagoon on 14th Street. The old pool, built in the 1880s, was replaced in 1937.

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