After seven years of planning, Bexar County next week will open one of the most interesting and least known tourist attractions in Texas to the public, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
For about 25 years, from the 1890s to the start of World War I, the Hot Wells Resort on San Antonio's southeast side was one of the premier destinations in the country for the 'beautiful people' at the time. They were attracted by the hot sulphur springs of the Edwards Aquifer. At the time, swimming was unknown as a recreation, and many people considered entering a lake or an ocean to be unhealthy. But the wealthy would travel great distances, often in their private rail cars, to 'take the waters,' to bathe in hot sulphur water, which as believed to be the cure for everything from the flu to syphilis.
"We'll have someone there to explain to you how this was such an important thing in the late 1800s, where people from all over the world would come here to take part in the treatment of bathing in sulphur water," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told News Radio 1200 WOAI.
The ruins of the original bathhouse, which was built by Otto Koehler of Pearl Brewery fame, have been stabilized, and Wolff says the two pools, segregated by sex, as was the fashion of the time, will also be seen by visitors.
"You can see the two pools back there, where people would swim in the sulfur water, one pool for women and one for men," Wolff said. "We will be showing silent movies, silent movies used to be made out there."
In fact, pioneering and often controversial director Cecil B. DeMille was a regular guest at the Hot Wells resort, and one of the first films ever made for public consumption, a 1911 silent feature called, appropriately, 'The Fall of the Alamo,' was made at the resort. The resort was also the home of the first incorporated motion picture company, Star Pictures.
Other fans of Hot Wells included head of state, including President Theodore Roosevelt and Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, as well as early celebrities like Tom Mix, Sarah Burnhardt, and Rudolph Valentino.
Wolff says in addition to learning about the 1896 version of 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,' the reopened Hot Wells resort will include hiking trails, access to the river, gardens, a greenhouse, and will be lighted at night.
Developer James Lifshutz first came up with the idea of opening Hot Wells, which for most people is just an exit on I-37, into a tourist attraction, and the effort was supported in 2015 when the San Antonio Missions, just across the river, were declared World Heritage Sites.
Lifshutz donated a portion of the property to Bexar County and plans to develop the area around it.
IMAGE COURTESY: EDWARDS AQUIFER AUTHORITY. USED BY PERMISSION