This introductory/historical account appeared in the Mt. Ear in Fall 2006.

For an update on the fundraising efforts, click here.

By Terry Leavitt
CCI Editor/Salmon Press

It was a wonder of the age. White Mountain Mineral Spring played an important role in the history of the Mt. Washington Valley, drawing visitors to the area in the decades around the turn of the 20th century.

Now a group of Conway residents is working to restore and preserve the White Mountain Mineral Spring House, all that remains of that 19th century marvel, as the land around it becomes busy with new life.
The spring house is located on Pine Hill in Redstone, next to the new Kennett High School.

Cindy Russell, Carl Lindblade and Bayard Kennett are working, as a committee of Conway Historical Society, to raise money for the project. They are working with Conway Historical Society director David Emerson, CHS President Ken Rancourt and CHS Treasurer Tom Bryant. The group hopes to raise $60,000 this winter and to complete the restoration by fall of 2007, to coincide with the opening of the high school. “We want it to be restored to its original beauty and to present a finished look to the area,” Russell said.


Mineral Spring House in original condition
photo courtesy of Conway Historical Society

The land and building are currently owned by Kennett Company, which has agreed to donate it, pending Conway School Board approval. Russell said that ideally, the property would be turned over to another organization, hopefully either the school district or the historical society, to own and preserve.
If neither of those organizations is able to take over the property, she said, the Kennett Company has agreed to hold the title, with restrictions specifying that the land and building will remain an historical site for the enjoyment of the general public.

Whomever owns the property, Russell said, “I think it should be a partnership with the school, which would help with security of the property.”
She said lighting should be trained on the property at night to highlight its beauty as well as to protect it, and she hopes a small area in the new school could be dedicated to displaying the history of the mineral spring.“My dream is that when this is all finished, there would be a glass exhibit case that I hope the school would allow to be placed in the high school entrance,” she said. “It could be placed in the foyer, should they agree to this, to keep reminding visitors and students that this is indeed a very special piece of property, and the kids need to understand and respect it.” The case could include such artifacts as bottles from the bottling plant, bills of sale, photos of the area and a piece of carved wood that was part of the Nash house.

A showcase for history

The White Mountains have been calling to tourists since the early 1800s.
Before there was skiing, before there was shopping, people came here to enjoy cool, quiet summers and fresh air of the mountains and lakes. There were fewer tourists then, but many came for the season, often arriving by train with their trunks, and settling in for weeks at local inns and hotels.
Hotels would plan day trips to local sites of interest like the mineral spring. Visitors used to strip the bark off birch trees to make cups to drink the water, and hoping to experience its restorative and refreshing effects.

When the springs were discovered in the 1800s, they were first used by local lumbermen for the engine of a steam saw mill. Later a manmade granite slab was constructed to provide a deep pool to collect the water and give the spring definition. The hexagonal pool is 12 feet in diameter and 40 inches deep. Around that pool they built the spring house in about 1892.

William Shepard Nash, of Foxborough, Mass,, and J. A. Carlton, of Conway, formed White Mountain Mineral Spring Water Company in 1882. They built a house (around 1896) and a bottling plant at the site. The house, which became known as the Nash House, served as a home for the Nash family and also apparently housed guests in the summer.

An archeological excavation of the site, between 2004 and 2005, in preparation for building the new high school, uncovered the remains of the Nash House, along with more than 5000 artifacts (many of them fragments of glass from the bottling operation). The water was used in local hotels, bottled and sold for use in cities and on ocean voyages. Later its natural carbonation was used to make ginger ale, birch beer, root beer and strawberry soda.
According to an article written by Rob Burbank in The Mountain Ear in April 1988, bottling plant manager Myer Wolf once had plans to develop the property as a spa, but those plans never materialized.

Good for what ails you

Visits to mineral springs were a common activity in the nineteenth century, both in America and in Europe. They were social gathering places and people often hoped the waters provided natural cures for illnesses of the day.

By the early 1880s, local writer Lucy Crawford was touting the springs as “the wonder of the age,” and “the greatest of all discoveries east of the Rocky Mountains.”
Crawford said it was the lumbermen who first noticed the health effects of the water. “They soon noticed a marked diuretic and cathartic effect and their appetites were wonderfully increased. Since then, as a knowledge of the peculiar qualities of the water has become known, its use by persons troubled with various chronic difficulties has increased and been attended with beneficial and, in some instances, truly wonderful results.”

Visitors were sometimes purported to be cured of illnesses as serious as tuberculosis after spending a season drinking the water. An analysis of the water done in 1909 determined it to be an alkaline, silicated water with 2 grains of free carbonic acid per gallon, “which renders it bright and sparkling, and it can be kept for any length of time without depositing any sediment.”

The water also contained carbonate of magnesia, lithium carbonate, and sulphate of potassium, which were considered to impart mild medicinal properties and to make the water useful in a variety of diseases. Chemist Edmund Angell of Derry reported that it was “an excellent drinking water.”

Fashions changed and the passion for mineral springs and bottled water lost favor for decades before returning in the current era. The bottling plant closed and the company was dissolved in 1929 (It had been sold to William Kennett in 1920). The Nash house fell into ruin, and around 1970, it was burned down as part of a fire department training exercise, to prevent it from becoming a hazard.

Renewed interest
For decades, no one thought much about the spring house or the mineral spring around which it was built. The pastoral pleasure of going to the country to take the waters had been replaced by different recreational pursuits.

The Nash house was eventually demolished and all that remained was the spring house, receded into the quiet woods at the edge of the growing strip of businesses in North Conway. People knew about it because hiking and skiing trails took them near it. Sometimes it was used by young people looking for a secret place to party.
The spring attracted more public attention as the world encroached upon it once again, first with plans for the Conway Bypass and then with the building of the high school.

In the archeological study commissioned by the school district, archeologists at John Milner Associates in Littleton, Mass., noted, “The spring house is indisputably significant to the history of the state as a whole, since it is the only surviving structure associated with the mineral-spring industry of New Hampshire.”
Linda Ray Wilson, deputy state historic preservation officer, has written a letter in support of the project, noting “The New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources is very pleased to learn that there is a local initiative to preserve the 19th century ‘Mineral Springs House.’ ” She noted that the Mineral Springs House was included in the state inventory of historic properties in 1993, as a result of work done for the N.H. Department of Transportation in studying routes for the Conway Bypass.
“The building is significant for its history, as a reflection of worldwide interest in mineral springs during the 19th century, and as an important element of White Mountain tourism that had a long-lasting influence on the history of the town, the region and the state. The building is also significant for its fanciful Victorian architecture, and for the original cut granite basin sheltered by the pavilion,” Wilson wrote.

The house is one of two remaining 19th century wooden spring houses in the state.
“Of the two wooden pavilions, the Conway structure is much more architecturally elaborate, and it has a higher degree of historical and architectural integrity because it remains on its original site and retains its original pool enclosure.”
‘Time to act’

Russell said it is important to save the building now because of its proximity to the high school. With so much activity nearby, if it is not restored, the building could easily become an eyesore and an object of vandalism. “It became crucial that something be done in a timely manner,” Russell said.

As Russell envisions it, the restored building will be an integral part of the campus at the new Kennett High School. “It will be a blending of new and traditional. It all goes together to form our community, both future and past,” she said. “It can’t be divorced from the high school,” Russell said. “You can’t look at the high school and have it not be part of it.”

Russell wants to see students from the high school involved with as much of the restoration and preservation of the building as possible. High school students in the building trades classes at the school participated in a restoration of the building about 10 years ago, replacing rotting floorboards. Russell said it would be terrific if that kind of project could happen again. In addition, she said, she hopes Kennett students would be part of presenting that history to others.

“One of our goals is to try to get little kids involved in learning about it,” she said. She suggested high school history students could be involved in that education, dressing in Victorian costume and greeting elementary school children when they come to visit, perhaps making part of the trip by horse and buggy as 19th century tourists did.

The project has already received some endorsement from the school district. SAU 9 Superintendent Dr. Carl Nelson and Assistant Superintendent Martha Cray wrote letters of support to be included with grant funding requests.
“The SAU 9 administration shares the committee’s goals for bringing this historic structure back to its original state,” Nelson said, adding that the administration intends to work with the Conway Historical Society to reach this goal.

Cray wrote, “A notable structure tied to the local community’s past in juxtaposition to the community’s forward look at its future through the structure of the new high school is a pairing that offers much. This plan for renovation and reintroduction of a piece of local history will provide future generations with a visible link to the past.
“The school programs have a long tradition of involving our community resources. We take great pride in the natural and unique features of the Mount Washington Valley. The Spring House stands to be one of those treasured artifacts of the valley. We have formal community history projects at each of our elementary, middle and high schools. We have a career and technical center with a property management program where maintenance and restoration are important concepts for our students to understand. We look forward to a time when a new high school building and a renovated spring house frame an entrance to Kennett High School and then Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center.”

Restoration and landscaping
There is plenty of work to be done to restore the building. The hexagonal building has openings on each side, and there were once doors or shutters on all of them. Most of these are gone. A new copper roof is planned. There is rot in some of the wood; shakes, shingles and trim are missing, the building needs to be painted and the basin filled by the spring needs to be cleaned.

Landscaping work is also planned, with a walk and bridge to approach the spring house. Not surprisingly, the land around the spring is quite wet. There is another spring uphill from the spring house, and part of the project would involve diverting that water to either side of the house. A landscape architect is helping with plans to renovate the building and restore landscaping.

Russell has written many grant applications; she was involved in the work on Connie Davis Watson Park, and has been involved in Arts Jubilee since its beginning.
Support for the restoration has started to become public. Over 50 percent of the necessary funds have been raised to date, says Russell:

~ major grant of $25,000 has been received by the Conway Historical Society from the Donaldson Trust in support of the Mineral Spring House restoration.

~ second contingency grant from the Ham Foundation for $10,000 has also been pledged if the committee raises the first $50,000 toward the goal of $60,000 for all improvements and a non-profit owner is found for the property.

~ The third grant received to date is from the Robert and Dorothy Goldberg Charitable Foundation in the amount of $5000.

Additional grant requests are still being considered. Moreover, Russell said, two private contributions of $25 each have been received from residents in Ossipee and in Deer Isle, Maine.

The CHS’ Emerson agreed that the project strikes a chord with many.
“There are many area residents who have a great interest in the Mineral Spring House and the opportunity to contribute toward its restoration will have a great appeal. It is a personal and important way to participate for those who wish to take some ‘ownership’ in the historical significance of the property,” said Emerson
Russell said the group wants to learn more about the history of the mineral spring. She hopes that if there are any families who have some knowledge of the history of the spring, or have artifacts they would like to share, they will contact her or the Conway Historical Society.

The Mineral Spring House in Redstone, as it currently appears
— it’s in need of restoration.
Cindy Russell and others are currently working hard
to raise funds to get it restored.
(Tom Eastman/Mountain Ear Photo)

To help or to find out more about the White Mountain Mineral Spring House restoration project, contact Russell at 4events@worldpath.net.
To make a contribution,write:
Attn: Mineral Spring House Project
Conway Historical Society
P.O. Box 1949
Conway 03818.

Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to the
Conway Historical Society, attention: Mineral Spring House Project.