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There were plenty of folks in Mineral Wells that thought building a major hotel in a rural community 50-miles west of Ft. Worth in 1912 was just plain crazy. Nonetheless, the four story hotel was built by the city over a water well known as the Crazy Water Well No. 3, and heralded it as an early 20th century health resort.
The acrid sulfur waters of the well, which were used throughout the establishment for drinking, bathing and for mixing with “Prohibition” cocktails, were said to have healing properties that addressed a number of health problems, including arthritis, dyspepsia, insomnia, liver and kidney problems, neuralgia, paralysis, rheumatism, scrofula, sore eyes, and impurities of the blood.
The hotel got its odd name from a local legend that purports a woman suffering from “mental and emotional problems” would often drink water from the well before the hotel was built over it. Supposedly, she eventually regained her sanity – no doubt aided by the high content of lithium in the water. Soon the locals began calling it the “Crazy Woman Well” and when the hotel was built, the name stuck.
Word quickly spread of the hotel and its “magic” waters. During those days, Americans were obsessed with miracle cures that would increase the longevity and quality of life, and the waters of Mineral Wells were as good as any to be taken as natural remedies that helped men and women feel young and healthy. People flocked to the newly-built lodges and bathhouses in Mineral Wells to take advantage of this new found craze, of which the Crazy Water Hotel was the first.
In March of 1925 the Crazy Water Hotel burned to the ground. Dallas businessmen Carr and Hal Collins quickly stepped in and bought the property and spent one million dollars to construct a larger, more lavish hotel, complete with a pair of natural bathhouses in the basement. The enterprising brothers claimed the miracle waters that bubbled up from the old well beneath the hotel were akin to the fabled waters sought by explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, and that the well was the proverbial Fountain of Youth. In an effort to market their mineral water to the local population, they built the enclosed Crazy Water Pavilion, designed in a semi-Moorish style, which served four strengths of the water.
While Howard mentions visiting Mineral Wells in his letters, he does not say where he stayed (the Crazy Water was most likely too expensive for his budget). As for the reason for his visits, we can only assume it was to take his mother to Mineral Wells so she could partake of the healing qualities of the waters. Here is one mention from a letter he wrote to August Derleth dated July 4, 1935, after a trip to New Mexico:
Personally, I wish I was rich so I could spend my life in travel.
But I do very little of it. Since returning home I’ve been nowhere except to Brownwood a few times; to De Leon which lies forty-five miles east of here over the most damnable road in the state; and to Mineral Wells, which lies 107 miles to the east, a beautiful little health-resort town built among the Palo Pinto mountains, and its greenness and plentiful water refreshing after the dry bareness of New Mexico and the Trans-Pecos.
The new, improved version of the Crazy Water Hotel opened in 1927, with a huge grand lobby, seven floors, 200 rooms and new electric elevators to transport people to the various levels of the hotel — a big improvement for those suffering from arthritis, and other physical infirmities from the old hotel, which only had staircases.
Carr and Hal Collins also wisely invested in a magnificent glass-enclosed ballroom on top of the hotel, which opened up to a roof-top garden. Adding live entertainment in the ballroom increased the appeal of the hotel, bringing in more guests and increasing income for the brothers. The popular big bands of the day played in the ballroom, entertaining the celebrity and upper class clientele that frequented the hotel. The famous guests who stayed at the hotel included D.W. Griffith, Judy Garland, Conrad Hilton, Mary Martin, George “Spanky” McFarland, Tom Mix, General John J. Pershing, and Bob Wills. The notorious frequented the hotel as well — Bonnie and Clyde and George “Machine Gun” Kelly were also guests of the establishment.
In 1929, a double-whammy hit the Crazy Water Hotel when the huge and opulent Baker Hotel opened down the street and the Stock Market crashed, ringing in the Great Depression. Floating in a sudden sea of red ink, the Collins brothers rebounded by selling Crazy Water Crystals, the dehydrated minerals from Crazy Well water. A radio show broadcast from the hotel’s lobby promoted the healing crystals to the entire nation on the NBC network. The Crazy Water Crystals Show touted a lineup of popular country musicians and comedians, coupled with earnest endorsements of the benefits of using the product. Soon the Crazy Water Company was raking in as much as three million dollars per year from mineral-crystal sales.
Time passed and new medicines were invented, while governmental regulations quashed many of the advertised claims made by the hotels and their water. Soon the occupancy of the Crazy Water declined, sales of the crystals dropped and the owners turned to other sources of income, including renting space for weddings, receptions, banquets and other functions.
The Crazy Water Hotel eventually evolved into the upscale Crazy Water Retirement Hotel, which has the motto: “distinctive, luxurious, affordable independent.” However, recently the owners of the hotel have been disputing claims made by Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services that the facility’s leaky roof poses a hazard to the clients of the retirement hotel.
Most of the water companies were shuttered by the 1940s, but one company survived. The Famous Mineral Water Company, which acquired the rights to the Crazy Water name, is the only place in Mineral Wells where you can sit at the bar, order a mineral water and savor the taste that built the city. If you would like to sample the waters of Mineral Wells from the comfort of your own home, Crazy Water is available for purchase online.