The rise and fall of ‘Sodaville’

The rise and fall of ‘Sodaville’

Popular Adams County resort started in 1840, destroyed by fire in 1924

By Meghann MacMillan

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although the Mineral Springs Resort of old is long gone, the attraction of peaceful country quiet is alive and well at the Mineral Springs Farm and Lake Resort. Although not directly related to the original Mineral Springs Resort, this lake-centered camping ground also focuses on the restorative powers of the Mineral Springs area.

PEEBLES — Adams County, for most people, has become synonymous with quiet seclusion, but the big woods and rolling hills were once home to a popular health resort.

According to “A History of Adams County, Ohio,” the tale of the Mineral Springs Resort begins in 1840 when a local resident, Charles Matheny, found relief in drinking the natural mineral waters.

The book says Matheny suffered from frequent kidney pain. One day, while hiking at the foot of Peach Mountain, he came across a bubbling spring. Looking for some refreshment, Matheny drank from the spring and soon discovered that his kidney pain had vanished.

Matheny wasn’t quiet about his “magic cure,” and word spread about the supposed healing properties of the mineral waters.

People began to flock to the mineral springs looking for a cure for everything from renal problems to frequent indigestion. The owners found the uninvited guests a nuisance and sold the property.

The land housing the mineral springs changed hands one more time before finally falling under the ownership of Hillis Rees. Articles found in the publication Ohio Southland detail the changes made to the resort, beginning with Rees.

Rees saw potential in the mineral springs and erected a basic two-story log cabin to house guests visiting the spring. He named the hotel and surrounding properties “Sodaville” for the bubbly quality in the mineral springs.

Although records show that Sodaville was a profitable business, Rees’ vision didn’t last. Just three years later, in 1866, Rees sold Sodaville to three gentlemen from Brown County: Byington Salisbury, Adam McFerson and James McFerson.

Ohio Southland states the Brown County men took Sodaville and changed it from a basic two-story log cabin into a three-story Gothic Style hotel. They also built stone shelters and walkways around the two nearest springs and cleared hiking trails through the beautiful 400 acres around the hotel.

As more and more people began to make their living in and around the springs, a little community began to grow. In 1872, the small town adopted a post office and took the name Mineral Springs, according to the publication.

According to “A History of Adams County, Ohio,” guests came to the hotel by way of the Ohio River. Most times, a horse-drawn carriage would meet guests at the port of Rome and drive the many miles through quiet countryside until finally reaching the Mineral Springs.

The popularity of the steam engine would eventually give way to locomotive transportation, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the first automotive vehicle was seen transporting guests to the hotel. By then, the automobile was a regular occurrence in many urban areas, but the roaring engines and clouds of dust still caused a stir in the small rural community of Mineral Springs.

In 1888, the Mineral Springs Resort went through another dramatic change when it was purchased by Civil War General Benjamin Coats, according to Southland Ohio.

Coats was a physician and a well-respected war veteran. He used his considerable fortune to update the Mineral Springs Resort.

It was under Coats’ operation that the hotel gained another wing on the south side with 20 new guest rooms. Gazebos were erected around the springs to offer shade to relaxing guests. In addition to the hiking trails, Coats cultivated vegetable gardens, created spaces for livestock and stocked ponds for fishing. The daily functions of milking cows, retrieving eggs or tending the garden were largely performed by guests eager to experience true country living.

Coats also added an ice house. The walls were about three-feet thick and when ice cut from the freezing Ohio River arrived on horse-drawn sled, it was packed in sawdust to insulate it for the summer months. The ice was used to cool drinks and guests, but most importantly for the popular new dessert now known as ice cream.

The next few owners of the Mineral Springs Resort saw a boom in business. Subsequent owners added bowling alleys, tennis courts and even a stage for theatrical plays.

The written records in “A History of Adams County, Ohio” state that the capacity of the hotel grew and received important guests such as then future presidents James A. Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes.

World War I had been waging in Europe since 1914 and by 1917 America had joined the fray. As money poured into the war effort, people could no longer afford vacations to the resort. In the following years, 130 rooms and several cottages, capable of housing nearly 300 people, went empty. The property switched hands multiple times, while the buildings and grounds fell into disrepair.

Ohio Southland reports that the resort never recovered from the downturned economy and in 1924, under the ownership of Ernest Ramey, the resort met its final end in a fire that reduced the structure to ash.

Adams County history books claim that Ramey collected the insurance, sold the land for timber and left Mineral Springs. By then the hotel had been nothing more than a lonely broken building on a once well-traveled road.

Throughout the years, the buildings not burned in the fire were left to rot and finally collapse. Today, all that is left of the massive hotel are the stone structures around the springs themselves.

Carved upon those very stones, almost worn away by time, are the names of guests to the Mineral Springs Resort. They stand as witnesses to the golden age of Mineral Springs and act as ghostly reminders of a time long lost, never to be again.

 

MEGHANN MacMILLAN

Meghann has lived in the country all her life and loves it more every day. She raises chickens, rabbits and two adorable children with her husband in Brown County.

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