Q: What is the story behind Sealy Hot Mineral Springs?
A: According to a marker erected in 2010 by the Alabama Department of Tourism and the City of Cottonwood at the intersection of State Route 53 and Houston County Route 55, the 1920s saw interest in the drilling for crude oil in the region.
“Several attempts would only find a hot spring of mineral water,” says the marker. “Mr. JR Sealy capitalized on this discovery and created an internationally acclaimed health spa.
Sealy Hot Mineral Springs remained in operation until a fire destroyed it in 2001.
An Alabama Encyclopedia article on Cottonwood states that after a small earthquake in 1927, a resident discovered oil floating on the surface of a local well.
“A brief boom in oil exploration followed until it was determined that the substance was simply gasoline that had leaked from underground storage tanks following the earthquake,” according to the report. ‘article.
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The resort that brothers JR and CS Sealy began building in 1936 near Cottonwood “became a popular tourist destination because of the supposed restorative power of mineral water”.
Historian and author Dale Cox blogged about sources at twoegg.blogspot.com in September 2019.
“The Sealy brothers, who invested tens of thousands of their own money during the craze, were nothing if not determined,” Cox wrote. “They soon realized that their failing oil wells might just pay off after all.”
Cox wrote that Sealy Well No. 1 penetrated to depths of nearly 5,000 feet before drilling was halted. “One of the last drill bits, however, hit something that turned out to be almost as valuable as oil – hot water,” the blog post says.
Cox quoted a 1937 newspaper article which recounted the discovery:
Nine years ago, on the Sealy farm about three quarters of a mile from Cottonwood, a well was sunk in search of oil. After almost four years of drilling and spending approximately $123,000, at a depth of 4,280 feet, just when he had almost reached the top, the drill dropped and the tremendous impact of his fall on nearly three quarters of a mile, broke the strata and immediately a powerful stream of hot salty mineral water gushed out and from then until now the hot salty mineral water has poured out at a rate of over 10,000 gallons per hour at a temperature of about 110 degrees. – (Mayor JT White of Cottonwood, “Oil Drill In Valley Fails But A Mineral Spring Is Result”, Columbus Daily-Enquirer, February 13, 1937.)
The artesian well or “hot spring” created a stream of water that flowed into a low point that quickly became a lake, according to the blog. Many believed that hot mineral water could cure a variety of illnesses and ailments, and stories spread of people and animals finding relief and healing in the water.
The Sealy brothers realized the potential of their accidental discovery. “In the spring of 1936, they began building a complex around their ‘hot mineral well’ which included 55 hotel rooms, cottages, apartments, a large gathering area and dining halls,” according to the blog. “Visitors could ‘take the water’ in 32 rooms with purpose-built baths as well as a 50×100 foot swimming pool.”
So many people – over 10,000 in 1936-37 – visited Sealy Springs that almost the whole town of Cottonwood “was turned into one big rooming house to deal with the overflow of people who came to bathe and cure in the curative waters of the well.”
By 1938, the resort’s fame had spread across the country, rivaling a similar destination on the eve of World War II.
“Many of those who had previously been to Hot Springs, Arkansas, or Warm Springs, Georgia, came to Cottonwood instead,” according to the blog. “Even President Franklin Roosevelt expressed interest in the station.”
Then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
“The country mobilized for war, and trips to seaside resorts like Sealy’s Hot Mineral Wells became luxuries few indulged in,” the blog said. “The post-war years did not bring back Cottonwood’s glory days. The complex’s central administration building was destroyed by fire in 1947, but there were no injuries as “few guests were registered”.
After Sealy Springs closed as a resort town, the facility “went through some uncertain times when a highly researched medical clinic opened there,” according to the blog. “Comedian Dick Gregory was also said to have been in negotiations to develop the site as a diet clinic in the late 1980s. A fire in 2001, however, ended the resort’s 65-year history by destroying key facilities.
The hot springs site is overgrown and almost forgotten today.
“An iron gate, a dilapidated fence and a few surviving structures are all that remain to remind of its fascinating history,” according to the blog. “The hot water is still flowing, filling the lake with warm water on the ground, then flowing into a creek and finally heading to the Gulf of Mexico.”