“Jacobs Well, Center of Health” was the sign at a mineral resort in Denison around the turn of the previous century. Could this have been the reason people diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) came to Denison for treatment and rehabilitation?
The well was located on property that now is a part of the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site. President Eisenhower’s birthplace was about a block away, just across Lamar Avenue.
A.M. “Milo” Jacobs owned the giant building with the mineral 100-foot well in the center. At that time Lamar Avenue was a narrow roadway that ran in front of both the house where the Eisenhowers had lived when the future president was born in 1890, on the right, and the Jacobs Hotel on the west side of the avenue.
Just who originally discovered the well isn’t known, but at the turn of the 20th century A.M. “Milo” Jacobs literally built a business around the waters that were said would “cure all.” For many years sufferers of arthritis, rheumatism and other ailments (maybe TB) poured through the doors of the health oasis.
According to an old timer, Frank McCune, who had lots of stories to tell about early Denison, Jacobs found that the water contained minerals comparable to the water at Mineral Wells. Some thought the water was polluted by some of the sulphur that came from railroad engines at the Katy round house not far away.
Jacobs became a masseur and gave massages to men after they had bathed in the mineral waters. His wife also became a masseuse and gave rubdowns to the women customers.
The giant two-story, split-level building encircled the well. After soaking in the healing waters, patrons were taken to large tables for invigorating rubdowns.
Calvin Mauldin wrote a feature more than 20 years ago explaining the procedure for treatments at Jacobs Well. He said that guests came from around the country for the treatment, and that locals weren’t in short supply either, thanks to “Saturday night patrons who were bit by the hair of the dog at the Blue Goose Saloon, a block north of the well, and who needed a cure on Sunday morning.”
I always heard it said a little differently, “for those who came to the well for treatment that failed, there always was the Blue Goose Saloon, a block down the street.” That saloon stood where the Eisenhower Visitor Center parking lot now stands.
While the area looks pretty cramped today for all the things that were included in or surrounded the resort, it is said he built a swimming pool on the northwest side of the house. A large boiler heated the mineral water and supplied hot water for radiators and steam for the steam room, where for $4 a bath could be taken.
According to a 1972 newspaper article, Milo’s interest in the business waned after his wife, Elzorah, died in a fire in 1925. A story in The Denison Herald on Nov. 12 that year said that Elzorah was fatally burned when her clothing caught fire as she was passing in front of a fireplace at her home. Her husband extinguished the blaze. She had been an invalid for 41 years as a result of her feet and lower limbs being frozen. No explanation was given for why and when her limbs were frozen.
Their son, Alfred L. Jacobs, came back to Denison and tried unsuccessfully to re-establish the business. He rented the top floor to roomers and the entire house was turned into apartments before it was torn down in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, the well was sealed and I have always been told that there was an agreement when the property was obtained for the Birthplace Park that the well would never be used again. Now there is no evidence of the hotel or the well to be found on the property.
In 1984 Dr. Ed Phillips shared with me a letter from Marguerite Barrett, who grew up in Denison but was up in years and living in Denver, Colo., at the time. Marguerite had some interesting recollections about Jacobs Well.
In the letter she said that many people came to Denison to try the curative waters of Jacobs’ from 1885 to 1900. A friend of Marguerite’s, Julia Carmical of Houston, told her that her uncle remembered being warned away from the deep well, but the small children of the neighbors played in the creek and tried to catch crawfish.
Marguerite said that Mrs. Carmical and her brother belonged to a Gerwick family in Denison. Their grandfather, George W. Gerwick, came to Denison in 1880 and worked as an engineer on the Katy Railroad in 1882.
Marguerite said that a Mr. Stinson and his four sons worked as contract painters and painted the hotel every spring. She said it was always full of people taking baths, and many Denison people went there regularly to take the baths to improve their health.
Many stories have circulated through the years about the old house. Could there also be a story that I haven’t heard about people coming for treatment to cure TB?
Whiskered gentlemen of every walk of life are said to have arrived in horse-drawn carriages, on trains of the nearby Katy Railroad, by horseback and on foot to limp in, some with crutches and others in wheelchairs, with the hope of walking out whole again. There are no records of how many actually visited and how many found relief at the very unusual resort.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com.