In the beginning ...
Excelsior Springs owes its existance to a natural spring that for ages gushed forth from remote depths of the earth at the edge of a pretty river near the western border of what is now Fishing River Township, Clay County, Missouri.
The white man was slow in appreciation of the rocky hills, deep caverns and rugged vastness here; the land was practically valueless -- not worth the clearing of stones and gnarled growth; it was so much better far away. Yet a few "squatters" built cabins, prepared small patches for cultivation, bore and brought up children. Here and there a substantial land and timber owner gave permanence to the domain, up to the unfolding of this story -- the days of 1880.
Discovered by accident, Travis Mellion, a black farmer, is credited with the discovery of Siloam Spring's medicinal value. According to historical records, the event happened in 1880 when the valley was still covered by a wheat field. Jas. L. Farris, an attorney from Richmond, with some friends, was camped near where Siloam Spring is located while hunting and fishing in the area.
Mellion lived upstream, near where the old Isley school building is located, with his family. One of his daughters suffered from a severe case of scrofula (a form of tuberculosis). Mellion visited the Farris camp where he told them of his daughter's affliction and how he had tried the advice of a number of physicians without relief.
Farris had noticed that residents in the valley steered clear of the water which oozed out of the bank near the river because of the yellow rusty track it left in its path. Half jokingly, he insinuated to Mellion that "it ought to be good for something" and suggested that it would do no harm to try it.
A jug of water was taken to Mellion's home, and his afflicted daughter, Opal, was given of it to drink. Some of the water was also heated and used for bathing. This was continued for several days and within the days there was marked improvement in Opal's condition. Inside of a few weeks, she was completely cured.
A log-cabin farmer, Frederick Kugler, living on the hillside not far from the spring, began to treat his rheumatic knees and a running sore on his leg caused by an old Civil War gunshot wound. Again, recovery occured.
After the astonishing cure of Travis Mellion's daughter, Opal, and of the German farmer, Fred Kugler, word spread of the new cure. Persons afflicted with other ailments came; more results were obtained and the fame of the health-giving water spread far and wide, thus Excelsior Springs as "America's Haven of Health" was born.
During an early stage of the excitement, A.W. Wyman, owner of the spring, realized its possibilities and the opportunity to dispose of some of his land. He came in contact with Rev. J.V.B. Flack, a Missouri City minister and to him he unfolded his plan. After investigating the widespread tales of cures, Dr. Flack was convinced that the new "find" was worthy of recognition. He advised Wyman to have the land platted, the water analyzed, and, to further spread news of the cures by advertising.
In cooperation with leading members of the community, Dr. Flack started work. He had the first analysis made and the report of Wright and Merrill, St. Louis chemists, revealed that the water contained minerals, justifying expectations of curative results. Four forked poles were driven in the bank of the Fishing River on which a covering was laid of brush. A five-gallon keg was sunk in the ground with one end removed, buried in the clay to catch the precious water for those who came. At this time, the river bank was a tangle of luxuriant vines and weeds, in part torn and trampled around the spring.
Dr. Flack built a home on the 40-acre tract that Wyman had platted, opened the first dry goods store, founded the first church, the Christian Union, and preached from its pulpit. From Longfellow's much quoted poem, he named the spring "Excelsior", later changed to Siloam.
Wyman was generous and public spirited, selling the lots at a fair price and turning the money back into needed improvements. Later, his memory was commemorated when the first school was erected and named in his honor.
Before a year had elapsed, 200 houses nestled in the little valley and clung to the rugged hillsides, while hundreds of visitors had to content themselves at camp fires, under the tents, and in the shelter of covered wagons, camped in hope that continued use of the waters would revive their health.
Along the same pretty little river about a half-mile southwest of "Excelsior", a strong flowing spring, surrounded by towering oaks, sugar maples, elms and other varieties of forest trees, had attracted the attention of Captain J.L. Farris, the attorney from Richmond. He had an analysis made and, as the result, another mineral spring was discovered. Captain Farris named the spring "Empire", later changed to Regent.
Then came more springs, the most prominent of them being Relief, Superior and Saratoga. By 1881 a pump was installed within a small, wooden pavilion at Siloam. Steps from Broadway and the first hotel to the west, the Excelsior, were constructed. A simple wooden bridge was built from the spring over Fishing River to an undeveloped penisula used for rest and relaxation. No town in Missouri had ever grew more rapidly in the ensuing twelve months than Excelsior Springs.
Discovery continued on the types of waters that Excelsior Springs offered. The internationally known Dr. W.P. Mason, professor of analytical chemistry at Rennselaer Institute, Troy, New York, was retained to analyze the waters. His report revealed in the Siloam and Regent waters the association of bicarbonates of iron and manganese -- a combination so rare that it is only found in four springs in all Europe and Excelsior Springs possessed the only two commercially known in the United States.
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