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Town of Water : Natural Springs of Carlsbad Originally Drew Settlers in 1880s

January 30, 1992| Richard Crawford | Richard Crawford is archivist for the San Diego Historical Society.

Are you ailing, are you failing,

Have you ills you cannot tell?

There is healing past revealing

in the waters of the well.

It is Carlsbad, bonny Carlsbad

And upon its sparkling brink,

Hygeia sits forever smiling,--

And she bids you come and drink.

--From Golden Era magazine, May, 1887

Throughout history, the purported medicinal value of mineral water has attracted people to natural springs. In the late 1800s, "health seekers" flocked to Southern California, often to drink or bathe in the local waters--such as the mineral springs of Carlsbad.

Carlsbad owes much of its early renown to a sea captain, John A. Frazier, who came to the area in 1883 and settled on a government homestead. Frazier drilled two wells by his home and struck water at just over 400 feet. Frazier soon decided his well water had remarkable curative powers over his chronic rheumatism.

As a small village called Frazier's Station grew around the depot for the California Southern Railroad (later Santa Fe), Frazier offered his water to railroad passengers traveling between Los Angeles and San Diego. A huge water barrel near the depot boasted a sign inviting travelers to "alight, drink and be happy."

One traveler who "alighted" at Frazier's Station in 1885 was a German-born merchant from the Midwest named Gerhard Schutte. The great Southern California land "boom of the '80s" had brought Schutte, his wife, and nine children to California in search of a town of "small farms and gracious homes." Frazier's Station seemed to be ideal. For $40 an acre, Schutte bought John Frazier's land and became a town builder.

In partnership with several others, Schutte bought up several hundred acres around Frazier's Station. To promote the town, the partners decided to advertise the local mineral water as an attraction. To their delight, chemical analysis of the water proved it to be almost identical to the celebrated water of "Well Number Nine" at Europe's world-famous spa at Karlsbad, Bohemia (in modern Czechoslovakia). The partners named their enterprise the Carlsbad Land & Mineral Water Co. Frazier's Station, predictably enough, was renamed Carlsbad.

An intensive publicity campaign followed, based on the curative potency of Carlsbad mineral water. An eight-page brochure circulated nationally, extolling water "from the bosom of Nature." The region's climate was also praised, suggesting that strawberries could be picked from April through Christmas. "Is this not as near Eden as any the world has ever seen?" asked the boosters.

Carlsbad mineral water was even endorsed by the county physician, Dr. J. P. Le Feure, who commented in his annual report for 1889 that Carlsbad was "one of the most healthy locations in the state."

"Numerous testimonials from many invalids," added Le Feure, "show that these waters have produced marked improvement in health in a short time from their use."

San Diego's Golden Era magazine predicted Carlsbad was "destined to occupy a foremost place among the great sanitariums of the world . . . it is safe to say that no other resort in the world combines the peculiar advantages for the health and pleasure seeker to be found there."

For a time, the advertising certainly succeeded. With real estate booming in all of Southern California, no town on the California Southern Railroad grew faster than Carlsbad. After only six months of life, the town could claim its own newspaper (The Sea Lion), telegraph and post offices, an elaborate school, a small hotel, and 200 residents. To replace the one inadequate hotel, the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Company started construction on a eighty-five room, four-story hotel.

But, as the "elegant, commodious" Carlsbad Hotel opened in late 1887, the real estate bubble was bursting. Real estate agents quit brining special excursion trains to Carlsbad. Land prices slid throughout San Diego County.

The Carlsbad Hotel continued to draw tourists and "health seekers," attracted by the fine beaches, easy railroad transportation, and, of course, the water. But, in 1896, the hotel burned--some thought by arson.

The community survived, well-served by its mild climate and magnificent setting. And the popularity of Carlsbad water continued for decades as bottled mineral water was shipped throughout the West.

Today, the site of John Frazier's original well is preserved beneath Alt Karlsbad, a replica of a German Hanseatic house, on Carlsbad Boulevard.

For a complete history of the Carlsbad region, see "Seekers of the Spring: A History of Carlsbad," by Marje Howard-Jones, 1982.

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