This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Musical Water of Mineral Wells, Texas

11 April 2014

Texas is usually known for cowboys, not sailors. But in 1917, some 400 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, a children's band from Texas posed for the camera in their best white jumpers and sailor hats. This postcard tells us who they were.

Woodward-Davis Family Band
consisting of W. W. Woodward and Sister, Mrs. E. L. Davis and their Children,
ages from 5 to 16 years.
Season 1917.   Permanent Address: MINERAL WELLS, TEXAS

Photos of family bands usually show Father as the bandleader, though many were a Mom and Pop outfit. This band is unusual to have a brother and sister combine their progeny into a performing group. It's a brass band with Mrs. Davis on tuba and W. W. Woodward on clarinet. The oldest boy on cornet looks about age 18, while the youngest on drums might be 6 or 7. Their Permanent Address was Mineral Wells, a small town west of Fort Worth, that was far from the sea, but not from the water.

Even very prolific siblings would be hard pressed to make up this 28 piece band on their own, which has added more local musicians to the Woodward & Davis company. The group is posed outdoors on the steps of a rooming house or hotel and the card is captioned:

The Junior Rotary Band.   Mineral Wells, Texas
W. W. Woodward, Director. Mrs. E. L. Davis, Instructor

The band director was William W. Woodward, who ran a jewelery store in Mineral Wells. In the 1920 census, he and his wife Maude had 5 children and a niece in their household. His sister's name was Minnie Davis and she was married to Edward L. Davis, employed as secretary of the Retail Merchants Association.

With occupations in the Mineral Wells business world it is not surprising that the children would be part of the Rotary Club which is a nationwide service organization for merchants and local leaders. Most of the boys and girls appear to be teenagers but there are some older musicians in the back row. The youngest is the boy in front wearing a fez and holding a long cane as a baton.

This same photo was used in a short report that appeared in the San Antonio Express, Sunday morning, June 1, 1924.

MINERAL WELLS, Tex., May 24.

San Antonio delegates to the recent meeting of the West Texas Chamber of  Commerce at Brownwood were amazed at the quality of music produced by the Junior Rotary Band of Mineral Wells,  one of the remarkable musical organizations of Texas. Ten members of the band belong to two families, and they are related. The band is directed by W. W. Woodward who has five children in  the organization, and his sister, Mrs. E. L. Davis; who has three children playing in it. Only  two of the youngsters in the band are 17 yeas  old, the next in age  being 15, and the youngest being only 8. The average age of the band members is 13 years.
Guy Woodward, oldest boy in the band,  not only is principal cornet player, but can play all other band instruments. He directs the K. of P. band of Mineral Wells, and also the municipal band of Perrin. Dorothy Davis, also a cornetist, teaches piano and violin. Dell Woodward, aged 10, played a cornet solo the last night of the convention at Brownwood. Members of the band also have a jazz orchestra and a  saxaphone quartett.

The Woodward-Davis Family Band was a great feature of Mineral Wells, TX, and clearly the citizens took pride in the group to send them to a convention of the regional Chamber of Commerce. But there was more to it than that. It was all about the water.

This vintage colorized postcard shows Oak Street in Mineral Wells with a trolley car in the center and what looks like two fire wagons participating in a parade. The generous pavement and numerous retail establishments give the town a prosperous appearance. 

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The same intersection today in Google Maps street view shows a faded city whose colors are not nearly as vibrant. The sidewalks have narrowed, the street car line has been paved over, and the pedestrian crowds have disappeared to air conditioned malls.

But if you take a virtual walk up Oak St. you will find some businesses remain.

On the left just above the trolley is the Palace Saloon which is still in the same place today. The Poston Dry Goods Co. - The Store With All the Goods is also still on Oak St. but has moved down next to the saloon. And in the distance is a large building with the name, Crazy Well Water Company, painted on the roof line.

Even for Texas that's an odd name for a business.

The back of this postcard provides a clue. It has no postmark but the style of printing puts it in the prewar 1905-1915 era. It was sent to Mrs. Frailey of Joplin, MO with this funny message.

If you would fire those two nurses you have and come down here you could kick the shingles off the chicken house in a few days   

The Crazy Well Water Company was one of many enterprising businesses that took advantage of a natural resource that made Mineral Wells a tourist destination. In the late 19th century, Texas became famous for its mineral waters which people consumed in a belief that it could cure whatever ailed them. Mineral Wells was only one of over a hundred Texas communities in the decades 1890 to 1920 that advertised the healthful benefits of drinking Texan alkaline water. Bart's enthusiasm was doubtless due to his having imbibed the invigorating waters of Mineral Wells.  

The first water well in this part of Texas was dug in 1880 on a ranch that was four miles from the Brazos River which had previously been the ranch's only source of drinking water. The Lynch family who lived there discovered that their poor health improved despite the water's strange taste, and soon their neighbors noticed this dramatic change too. By 1881 the demand for the curative water was strong enough that more wells were dug. Before the year was finished the boundaries of a new city were surveyed. It was named Mineral Wells, and Mr. Lynch was the first mayor.

The Crazy Well Water building we see in the postcard view, was the site of a well also drilled in 1881. At the time an old woman suffering from some mental disturbance took up a habit of sitting by the well and asking people to bring her some of the water. When her condition improved, the well became known as the Crazy Lady Well and later just the Crazy Water Well.

Some of the waters of Mineral Wells do have a significant amount of lithium. The other minerals that were promoted as medicinal agents­­ – calcium, magnesium, and sulfate­ – supposedly could effect dyspepsia, neuralgia, sore eyes, paralysis, insomnia, liver and kidney problems, rheumatism, scrofula, and improprieties of the blood. In an age when medical science had few cures for disease and chronic ailments, it is no wonder that a magical water would attract people desperate for any product that might restore health.

It is also no wonder that big money could be made selling the water and providing a place to stay while it was consumed.  By 1913, Mineral Wells had 21 water companies; several bath houses and sanitariums; and over 40 hotels and rooming houses. Each well offered different methods for consumption of the water and people visited each establishment to get the full benefits. This drove a boom in recreation services like restaurants, gaming houses, and resort amusements of all kinds. The Woodward-Davis Family Band were a small part of this entertainment industry supporting the many spas of Mineral Wells.  

One of the hotels was also located on Oak Street, just a block past the Crazy Well Water Company. It was called the Delaware Hotel, and on October 16, 1907 it burnt to the ground. Evidently there were limits to the restorative powers of the local mineral water.

Photo postcards have an interesting sub-genre devoted to photographs of disasters and accidents. Fires were a popular subject and here the Mineral Wells photographer has artfully colored the smoke to emphasize the dreadful horror. The firemen's horses and wagons might even be the same ones pictured in the parade on Oak St.    

Oct.16, 1907 Delaware Hotel Fire, Mineral Wells, TX
Source: Portal to Texas History

The archives at the Portal to Texas History provide another view of the same hotel fire. It is easy to see how a postcard like this would become a big seller to the tourists who stayed in Mineral Wells. It was still published two years later in 1909 when it was sent to Miss Ida Vinther of Godley, Texas.

Hello Ida   How are
you. I am feeling
all right this morning.
I eat my breakfast  t...(?) mor...(?)  I
don't know when
I will get to come
home. I had
hot eggs for breakfast
they were put in
the hot water and
that was all. I
have a good nurse
Good Bye  (Willie
St. Joseph's Infirmary

We can only hope that eggs poached in Texas mineral water provided Willie with some relief, because I can't believe that they tasted very good. 

Woodward Family Band/Gem Theater Band
Mineral Wells, TX, circa 1915
Source: Portal to Texas History

The same Texas archives have a photo of the Woodward-Davis musical clan standing in front of the Gem Theater of Mineral Wells. The description dates the photo to 1915 based on the two movie posters behind them - The Diamond From the Sky, and The Wayward Son. Perhaps the films of the 1917 season had a more nautical theme which would explain the band's sailor suits.

Minerals Wells remained a prominent and profitable health spa resort through the years of the Great Depression and WW2, but by the 1950s magic elixirs were no longer a good reason for visiting central Texas, even with air conditioning, and the town's fortunes declined.   

However you can still get bottled Crazy Water, and the brand's website presents a terrific history of this health resort town and its salubrious water.

No doubt the children of W. W. Woodward and his sister Minnie Davis thrived on it and drank it every day. See how musical it made them?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to book a room at another hotel.


L. D. said...

It is interesting the young guy had never had a poached egg before. I like seeing all the different bands in the Texas area. Fun post.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing collection of old postcards from one locality, and I admire the way you research the area so thoroughly. Have you ever visited this place?

Boobook said...

I'm amazed how close the spectators are to the fire! Obviously they weren't worried about walls or debris falling down.
The band photos are fun.

Brett Payne said...

You've gone an extra mile or two on this one. It's not really surprising there were so many fires, with all that wood, and only crazy water to douse them with.

Alan Burnett said...

You can take any theme or even a hint of a theme and weave the most fascinating musical tale from it. The Musical Water Of Mineral Wells is a classic - words and pictures sit together perfectly.

Wendy said...

Mineral Wells must have been a popular name for a town -- there's one in West Virginia too. I have a photo of my relatives visiting Bear Lithia Springs in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where "crazy water" was a big attraction.

21 Wits said...

What an enjoyable post, and a great name for a town!

Unknown said...

I lived in Mineral Wells for many years, and now live in Fort Worth, which is only 40 miles away.

You have a very nice collection of postcards here - I am sharing this page with family and friends who still live in Mineral Wells. Thank you for reminding me of the rich history of my old hometown.

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Baker Hotel,_Texas%29, which is 13 stories and huge for a small town of this size, but was built during the Crazy Water craze - movie stars and presidents visited Mineral Wells to bathe in and drink the water, and they stayed at the Baker. Later, a military base (Fort Wolters) was built and military families often stayed at the Baker.

There's also the Crazy Water Hotel, which is now an assisted living retirement home.

The town pretty much died when the military base was closed in 1970 or 1971, but it has a very interesting history and many wonderful memories for me. Thank you again for posting this great page!

Postcardy said...

I enjoyed both the band pictures and other information about Mineral Wells. I have a postcard with a famous "Crazy" welcome sign. I didn't realize that there were many other places in Texas with mineral water.

Kristin said...

Maybe the water was poached in hot springs mineral water? A very nifty looking family band.

Anonymous said...

I find it quite interesting seeing how women were working their way into the brass bands in the early C20th. No doubt it was part of the general social change, such as moving towards votes for women etc.

Susanna Rosalie said...

Up until now I did not know that there were Spas and Spa culture, so to speak, over in the States. The musical treatment must have really done good together with the water one.

And I sure had a laugh imagining Mrs. Frailey kicking! I've always found the back of old postcards as interesting as the front.


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