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A History of the Hot Sulphur Wells Resort Hotel

Owned by McClellan Shacklett

... on May 5, 1893, McClellan Shacklett pulled off his greatest stunt yet. He submitted the winning bid of $500.00 per year to lease the sulfur springs at Hot Wells from the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum (now the San Antonio State Hospital) for a period of ten years. The previous lessee, Charles Scheuermeyer, ran the Southwestern Park and Hot Sulphur Natatorium from 1892 to 1893. Under terms of the new lease agreement, McClellan was obligated to erect a first class bathhouse costing at least $4,500.00, a sanitarium costing at least $12,000.00, and a large hotel. McClellan planned for the hotel to accommodate at least two hundred guests, and it was predicted that he would ultimately spend at least $50,000.00 on improvements in order to make the establishment a first class bathing resort. 

He used the resort at Hot Springs, Arkansas as a model, planning to provide various types of private baths with porcelain tubs which are able to withstand the harsh effects of sulphur water. There was to be drawing rooms and parlors for the ladies, billiard rooms for the men, a free swimming pool for those who could not afford private baths, and private pools for families. Known as Natural Hot Sulphur Wells or Hot Sulphur Baths, this "spa" had landscaped carriage drives and electric streetcars that brought health seekers to the resort, dances, and dinners. Side attractions such as an exotic animal menagerie also drew in more crowds. 

The glory days were short lived, however, for at 1 AM on December 24, 1894, a massive fire destroyed the buildings. McClellan himself rescued six guests personally from their rooms. The entire structure was totally destroyed. Newspaper accounts stated that the building was about a year old, and construction costs had been around $17,000.00, and the furnishings were valued at $3,000.00 to $4,500.00. McClellan vowed he would rebuild at once and on February 5, 1895 the newspaper reported that carpenters, painters, and paper-hangers were working on a temporary bathhouse to be opened to the public in a few days. 

Plans by McClellan to rebuild the structures on a larger scale apparently never materialized as he lost his lease on the site, when the owners decided the temporary bathhouse he built after the fire, did not live up to the terms of the agreement. 

The San Antonio Express News has described the resort as such: 

Shacklett purchased a ten acre pecan grove on the San Antonio River from George Dullnig on June 10, 1893. The property was situated about 400 yards from the hot sulphur well The bathhouse dimensions were 96 feet x 135 feet, the building two stories high. The property was located 1-1/2 miles from the city and city streetcars stopped in front of the resort every 20 minutes. The pecan grove had been transformed into a landscaped park with splendid carriage drives leading to the main building. The first floor of the bathhouse consisted of an entrance hall which led into an office with parlors located on either side. These carpeted parlors, one for ladies and one for gentlemen, were furnished with sofas and easy chairs. A large pool located behind the parlors, contained the hot sulphur water which rose from a depth of 2000 feet. Individual baths and private reclining rooms were available, and dressing rooms were arranged alongside the pool. A restaurant was located in the pavilion which was described as "a pretty building embowered in trees".

Sunday, December 23, 1894 - San Antonio Express Newspaper

Fire at Sulphur Wells, The Natatorium and hotel Completely Destroyed This Morning,

The hotel and natatorium at the Hot Sulphur Wells were totally destroyed by fire this morning between 1 and 2 o'clock. The fire was first discovered by a neighbor named McDaniel, who lived near by, and who immediately gave the alarm and aroused Mr. Shacklett, the----------, sleeping in a building about thirty feet distant from the natatorium. The fire had gained considerable headway and a large portion of the building was enveloped in flames before the fire was discovered. 

Seeing at a glance that the building could not be saved Mr. Shacklett set about to rescue the guests, who were asleep in the burning building al unconscious of their danger. In the building at the time were: Mrs. Stafford of Columbia, Tex.; Miss Julia Walker and little brother, and Mr. Warren Walker of Eagle Lake, Tex.; Mr. Fitzpatrick of San Antonio and Mrs. F. E. Wedding, mother of Mr. Shacklett. There was no time to be lost or spent in an effort to save personal effects. Mr. Shacklett rushed into the burning building and aroused the inmates. Many of them being too excited and frightened to save themselves had to be carried out be Mr. Shacklett. 

None of the guests saved any of their personal effects and narrowly escaped with their lives and were clad only in their night garments. While being carried out the little brother of Miss. Julia Walker fainted but was promptly attended to by the crowd which in the meantime had gathered. Mrs. Stafford, after being taken out of the building, attempted to return to her room to save some valuables and would have lost her life but for the heroic actions of Mr. Shacklett, who followed her into the building and a second time brought her out in his arms. Her clothing and face and hands were badly burned, but her injuries are not serious. 

Mr. Fitzpatrick of San Antonio also attempted to reenter the building to save some of his personal effects. Nothing was seen of him for a few minutes and Mr. Shacklett again entered the building on his own mission of rescue. He found Mr. Fitzpatrick, but the flame had closed in behind him and cut off chance of escape through halls. Mounting the top of the building a ladder was procured and the rescuer and rescued made their escape from the now almost totally destroyed building and not a moment too soon, for a moment later the walls gave way. 

Within three-quarters of an hour from the time the fire was discovered the building was completely destroyed. The guests who had so narrowly escaped a horrible death were taken care of by neighbors. 

The building was erected about a year ago at a cost of $17,000, was the property of Mr. C. Shacklett. It was insured for $10,000 in companies represented by the insurance agencies of Beall & Eichlitz and Lee & Smith. The furniture was valued at $3000 and was insured at the sum of $1000. All the personal effects of the guests were a total loss.

Monday Morning, December 24, 1894 - San Antonio Express Newspaper

Heroic Work of Rescue, Narrow Escape of Guests at the Sulphur Wells, The Entire Building a Mass of Flames When the Fire Was First Discovered - Buildings to Be Reconstructed

Where once stood the beautiful hotel and natatorium at the Hot Sulphur wells is now a mass of smouldering ruins. As told in yesterday's Express, the building was completely destroyed by fire between 1 and 2 o'clock Sunday morning. The six guests who had rooms in the burned building had a narrow escape from a horrible death and were saved only by the prompt and heroic action of Mr. C Shacklett, the proprietor, who reportedly jeopardized his own life to save them. 

When the fire was discovered almost the entire building was wrapped in flames, the roof of the southern portion was beginning to fall and the tall cupola was burning from top to bottom. Without waiting to dress and clad only in his night garments, Mr. Shacklett rushed over to the burning building from his room in a building, about sixty feet distance. 

Upon entering the front door he found the front hall and stairway filled with smoke, while that part of the building surrounding the swimming pool was a seething mass of flames. Though the smoke was stifling and the heat intense, he instantly ran up the stairway and began arousing the guest's, all of whom were sleeping soundly, unmindful of the impending danger. 

Going down the hall, the first room Mr. Shacklett reached was that occupied by a Mrs. Stafford, an aged lady. Breaking open the door, he aroused her and proceeded down the hall to awaken the others, among them being his mother, Mrs. Wedding. The room occupied by Mr. Fitzpatrick was the last reached and after arousing him Mr. Shacklett started back down the hallway and found the ladies standing about the doors to their rooms, too paralyzed with fear to know what to do. 

Through the dense smoke could be seen the flames rapidly coming nearer and nearer. One of the ladies attempted to reenter her room to save some valuables, but Mr. Shacklett ordered her to come back, and hurried the party down the stairway and out the front entrance. Coming down the steps, the 7 year-old brother of Miss. Walker fainted and had to be lifted out by Mr. Shacklett. 

Upon reaching the open air, Miss. Julia Walker looked about her and not seeing Mrs. Stafford, began to cry frantically "My grandmother is not here! Save her! Oh, save her, somebody!" Again Mr. Shacklett entered the burning building. This time the flames closed in behind, cutting all means of escape by the front stairway. He found Mrs. Stafford crouched in a room on the opposite side of the steps from her own room. The flames were now within a few feet of them, and seeing the thoroughly frightened woman, Mr. Shacklett barred down the hall, hoping to reach a window near which was an iron rod, running from the second story to the ground, and make an escape by sliding down it. 

As he passed near the back stairway, which was in that part of the building which had caught first, Mrs. Stafford broke away from her rescuer and fell down the stairway to the first landing. The carpet had been burned from the steps and the walls were on fire. Mr. Shacklett leaped down to the landing and again seized Mrs. Stafford, and, it being too late to turn back, carried her on down the burning stairway and through several rooms on the first floor and out a window. 

No sooner had Mr. Shacklett gained the open air again than he discovered Mr. Fitzpatrick on the roof of the swimming pool, calling loudly for help. A short ladder, reaching to the roof of the bathroom, was procured and Mr. Shacklett mounted to the roof and drawing the ladder up after him placed it against the roof of the swimming pool, by means of which Mr. Fitzpatrick descended to the roof of the bathhouse. The moment he placed his foot upon the ladder the roof he had left fell in with a crash. In making the descent to the ground the ladder broke under the combined weight of the two and both fell several feet to the ground. Beyond a few scratches and bruises neither suffered any hurt. 

All the personal effects of the guests were destroyed, and in addition Mrs. Stafford lost $110 in money and a gold watch and Mr. Fitzpatrick $109.75 in money. The cost of the building was $17,300 and was insured for $10,000 in companies represented by Beall and Eichlitz and Lay and Schmidt, and $2000 in the Royal of Liverpool, represented by Campbell & Conroy. The furniture was valued at $4500 and was insured at $4000. 

The origin of the fire is not known. There was no fire in the building Saturday or Saturday night, and when first seen the fire had gained such headway as to make it impossible to tell in what part of the building it started. 

The fire was first seen by Mr. McDaniel and a friend, who lived nearby, and who were returning from the city. As soon as they saw the building they began to cry "Fire, fire," and their cries together with the furious barking of a large number of dogs they were taking home, aroused Mr. Shacklett, who sleeps in a small office building about sixty feet from the natatorium. 

Chief Kehoe, of the fire department, started to the fire with a steamer and hose truck, but when they reached the fair grounds the horses broke down and could go no further and were compelled to return to the city. 

Great crowds of people from the city went out yesterday to look at the ruins. Mr. Shacklett was seen by a reporter for The Express and says he will rebuild at once.

July 15, 1894 San Antonio Express News page 8

Pleasure and Health, Mr. McC. Shacklett Interviewed - The Hot Sulphur Wells Drawing the Crowds.

A reporter for the Express yesterday boarded the electric car and rode out to the Hot Sulphur Wells. It is not bad - a ride on the cars in the suburbs - this summer weather. And when you get to the wells and plunge in the splendid sulphur water - that is not bad either. In fact it is very good. It is health giving, invigorating and refreshing. It is a medicine and recreation combined. Mr. Shacklett said to the reporter: 

"During the hottest weather of the season (ten days ago) more people visited the natatorium than ever before. It was almost too hot to do any business, and men from the city with their families and frequent parties of young people attended morning, afternoon and night. They filled the pool and the individual baths and seemed to think they had at last found the right place." 

On the car with the reporter coming back to the city were some New York people who were delighted with their swim in the sulphur water. Said one gentleman: 

"I have been at several of the famous baths of Europe and at Las Vegas and Topo Chico. An examination of the analysis of your hot sulphur water here and my bathing in it make me believe it is fully as good as any water anywhere. Mr. Shacklett is a pleasant gentleman, a good business man and the institution he has founded seems to be highly appreciated." 

Wednesday, August 29, 1894 San Antonio Express News page 3

Shacklett's Bear - How the Vicious Brute Was Captured Near Langtry by Roy Bean

Col. McClellan Shacklett has a new attraction in his "Zoo" at the Hot Sulphur Wells. It is a black Texas bear, just received as a present from his friend, Roy Bean, the famous jurist and alcalde of Vingaroom, that bristling western metropolis where Judge Bean sells whiskey in a tin cup and now known on the railroad map as Langtry. 

It seems that Judge Bean recently visited the tamale metropolis for the purpose of laying a fresh supply of -lm--aes, hardware, ammunition and other necessities of life at Langtry, and while here detailed to his friend Shacklett quite a number of thrilling adventures and escapes with the wicked black bear that infest the Devil's river country. Shacklett leant a listening ear and as the two men increased the depth of their social potatiens and exchanged felicitations that Judge Bean had been preserved to his country through so many tight places, the stories grew taller and still more harrowing in their details. At last when the doughty judge related how he had killed seven of the vicious things in one afternoon, and having exhausted his ammunition, a bear caught him and squeezed him until he had to cut the brute to pieces with a Bowie knife to escape from his deadly grasp. 

Shacklett, weakened, and remarked with a sinister expression that he had never seen a bear from that part of the country, nor did he recollect of ever having seen any other man beside Judge Bean who had seen any bear in those parts. This unexpected turn in the conversation rather startled the judge, but he is not a man to lay down his hand on a bluff like that. He contended that bear were so plentiful out his way that hardly any other kind of fresh meat was used in Langtry, and that if his friend Shacklett didn't believe it he would send a live one to him as a present as soon as he could get back to Langtry and find time to go into the hills and catch one. 

The bear arrived yesterday. With him came a letter from Judge Bean detailing the manner of his capture. In his letter Judge Bean admits that the brutes are not so plentiful now as they were when he was down there last telling about them, and that he had quite a time finding this one. He had been out two days with a pack of dogs and some Mexicans before he even saw a track. Early the morning of the third day on the headwaters of Devil's river, the dogs scented a trail and took it up with a yelp. The judge and the Mexicans followed, and after a chase of a couple of miles found bruin at bay in a thicket, with the dogs all around him. With the encouragement of the judge, the dogs sailed in and for fifteen minutes, writes the judge, there was "blood and hair, and livers and lights" scattered all over that thicket worse than was predicted in Gov. Hogg's Santone speech. Seven dogs and one Mexican were killed outright, and a list of the injured was too long for publication. 

"Finally" writes the judge, "after having enough sport out of the fracas to satisfy even an old bear killer like myself, who has killed his thousands, I got the bear tangled up in my lariat, deftly tied his legs together, and muzzling him with a Mexican 'moral,' had him lifted into the wagon and hauled to Langtry for shipment to San Antonio. If you want another, just let me know, and I'll go out most any morning and get it for you. I think it would be a good idea for you to have two at your place, and call one Roy Bean and the other Langtry. Me and Langtry would make a good team. How's that for a joke?" 

"It all makes a very pretty story," said Mr. Shacklett reflectively, yesterday, as he watched the bear in the cage, "and all who know Judge Bean as I do would spurn to entertain a doubt as to the correctness of every detail of this horrible affair. No, sir: Judge Bean is not a man to stretch the blanket around any achievement of this character, especially an affair in which he figured as conspicuously and with such signal courage and skill. Anyhow," he continued, "whether the story is true or not in every detail, as the judge writes me, anyhow I've got the bear, whether he came from Europe, Asia or Africa."