Situated about fifty miles to the west of Fort Worth, lies the small city of Mineral Wells, Texas. In its heyday, the first half of the twentieth century, Mineral Wells was a popular destination for travelers from all around the United States, owing to the mineral rich water, claimed to have extraordinary health benefits, that was discovered under the grounds there in 1880. Over the course of the next century, the water from Mineral Wells grew into a major industry, drawing nationwide attention to the little Texas town, and even making it into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Untited States. Today, the town is quiet and empty, almost like a ghost town, yet still oozing with small town charm. Though it is still occupied, and its population today is even greater than in the old days, many of the buildings in the old downtown section are now vacant and decaying, awaiting hopeful restoration.
After the water that put Mineral Wells on the map was discovered, bathhouses attracted visitors and enterprising businessmen moved in to capitalize on the product, the companies they founded there, the most famous of them being the Crazy Water Company, claimed their water cured everything from rheumatism to insanity. These entrepreneurs also produced a wide variety of other products related to the water, like the Crazy Crystals shown above, which consisted of the remaining minerals after the water was evaporated. The idea was to add the crystals to your own water, thus recreating Mineral Wells’ water for yourself. Unfortunately, removed from the original water, they had little effect. In 1940, the Federal Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order to the makers of those crystals, in response to their increasingly outlandish claims of its benefits. Another memorable product was “Dismuke’s Pronto-Lax”, a product occasionally plugged retroactively by Dismuke, the eponymous host of Fort Worth’s own Radio Dismuke (which, if you like this site, and don’t already know about, you should check out).
In the early decades of the twentieth century, Mineral Wells played host to training camps for baseball teams, including the Spring Training Camp for the Chicago White Sox, the year of the infamous 1919 World Series and “Black Sox Scandal”. Many years later, towards the end of their prime, the Texas Republican convention of 1952 was held in the town. During the golden age of old time radio, Mineral Wells played host to a number of shows put on by the makers of Crazy Water that could be heard around the States. Perhaps the most popular of those shows was the Crazy Hillbillies Program, a country and western program comparable to the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago or the WSM Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. A few artists from the Mineral Wells shows made records during the Great Depression, which are now very uncommon today.
When entering the quiet town of Mineral Wells, the first sight you’ll see is the monstrous but sadly derelict Baker Hotel, opened November 9, 1929, only days after the stock market crash on Black Thursday. The hotel was conceived when locals feared that outsiders were profiting from their mineral water more than they were, so the residents contracted prominent Texas hotelier Theodore Baker to construct a new hotel that would benefit locals. The first skyscraper ever built outside of a metropolitan area, the enormous hotel was designed by Texas architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, who was also responsible for the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the Texas and Pacific Complex in Fort Worth. In spite of the Depression, the Baker was quite successful during the 1930s, and it attracted a host of famous guests. The hotel continued to operate until 1972, when it finally shut its doors, and has been vacant ever since. Today, there are plans to renovate the hotel with a 1920s theme, and local sources indicate a planned start date of January 2017 for the project.
The other major hotel in town during Mineral Wells’ golden years was the Crazy Water Hotel, built on the site of the third well dug in the town. The first hotel was erected there in 1912, and burned down in 1925, the building that stands today opened its doors in 1927. It served as home to most of the radios shows based in Mineral Wells in the 1930s, including the Crazy Hillbillies. After it ceased operation as a hotel, the former Crazy Hotel operated as a retirement home until very recently. Now, unfortunately, it too stands vacant.
Hopefully, sometime in the near future, the charming town of Mineral Wells will experience a renaissance, and new life will be breathed into the old bones of the wonderfully charming but faded spot.
If you ever find yourself in Mineral Wells, be sure to pick up some Crazy Water at the Famous Mineral Water Company, the only one of the wells still in operation. They also operate the last remaining bathhouse in town. Also, be sure to visit a little place by the name of Jitter Beans, where they sell what may well be the best coffee on the face of this earth, imported from all over the world and roasted right there in house.
Take a look through the photo gallery below to see more of what Mineral Wells looks like today!
Mineral Wells – Home of Crazy Water is the second installment in the Old Time Texas series covering historical sites in the Lone Star State.