Fiji Water from the Melanesian island of Yaqara. Evian from Lake Geneva in the French Alps. Voss from the small Norwegian village of Vatnestrøm. Groundwater from Cartersburg Crystal Springs, Liberty Township, Hendricks County.
Well, not currently, but 100-years-ago the water from Cartersburg Crystal Springs was all the rage. This bubbling source was considered among the nation’s best for quality and profitability. In fact, several successful mineral water ventures existed in Indiana at the turn of the 20th century.
With “medicinal water” from French Lick, Ind. leading the way, other Indiana bottlers were able to follow suit with higher-than-the-national-average prices.
In 1911, the Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey published Mineral Resources of the United States. Among its findings were statistics from mineral water-based companies.
“The returns as reported from spring operators in Indiana continue to indicate an increase in output,” the Survey wrote. “Sales during that year (1911) amounted to 1,084,428 gallons, valued at $653, 641 ($16.5 million today). Compared with 1910 returns of 754,111 gallons, valued at $514, 958, these figures indicate a gain of over 48 percent in quantity and of about 27 percent in value.
The report goes on to say, “…the high comparative price in Indiana is due to large sales of French Lick water, which as medicinal water commands a high price. Over 90 percent of total sales reported by 15 Indiana mineral water companies was used for medicinal purposes.”
One of the 15 companies, Cartersburg Crystal Springs Inc., was said to supply a large amount of water to the state, according to John Vesta Hadley, author of the 1914 History of Hendricks County, Indiana.
“It is a mineral water and was first found in 1887 on Dobbin’s farm, five miles southeast of Danville,” Hadley wrote.
While the “curative properties” were known to white settlers in the mid-19th century, bottling of the Cartersburg water didn’t begin until 1906 after a fire ravaged the health resort built around the springs. After the fire, selling the water became a steady source of income.
A new book titled Cartersburg: Then and Now, compiled by Ann Garceau, provides a wonderfully detailed description of Cartersburg Springs both before and after the fire. The book is available at several local libraries including the Plainfield-Guildford Township Public Library.
According to Garceau’s findings, the water was collected and then trucked to Indianapolis until the 1970s.
The collection plant was eventually incorporated into a private residence which still stands today, but little of original health resort remains visible.
Demand for “medicinal water” peaked around 1915. The reasons for its decline include improved public water purification and advances in medicine.
Although “medicinal water” may sound like quackery today, one must take into account the availability of clean water in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a time when diseases like tuberculosis, Spanish flu and typhoid swept across the country, sanitation protected the afflicted who already had a weakened immune system. So in a sense, yes, it was medicinal.
The success and decline of Cartersburg Springs is a good example of the interconnectedness of business and technology. Yet, it also illustrates the power of “brand,” as bottlers continued to sell the water well into the 1970s.