The history of Excelsior Springs

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.

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. One of his daughters suffered from a severe case of scrofula (a form of tuberculosis). 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.

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.

Additional Excelsior Springs history websites:
Excelsior Springs Historic Preservation Commission
The pre-history of Fishing River
The Excelsior Springs Museum
Visit Excelsior Springs