The story of Buffalo Lithia Water is centered around a mineral water spring located in Mecklenberg County, Virginia.
The very beginning of the story, as remembered years later by a long time local area resident, was included in a feature on the spring and the resort that grew up around it published in the August 23, 1874 edition of the Norfolk Virginian.
We have just learned from an old man living near here, who is about seventy-five years old, all about this now famous place, as it was when he was a boy. The valley in which the spring is was a black marsh, having a strong odor of gunpowder, and looked very much like it, and the Spring was known as “Gunpowder Spring.” It was a favorite resort on Sundays for all the Sabbath-breakers of the neighborhood, who congregated here to fight, play cards, etc. A few years after, the farmers who lived some little distance off, appreciating the valuable water, and not living near enough to visit it as often as they wished, commenced to build them cottages around here, and spend most of the summer here. A gentleman by the name of Speed built the first Hotel, and the place was known as “SPEED’S HEALING SPRING.”
Joseph F. Speed announced the establishment of his hotel, formally referred to as “Buffalo Springs” (sometimes “Buffaloe” in the early years), in an advertisement dated May 24, 1816. The ad which ran in the June 7, and June 14, 1816 editions of the (Raleigh) North Carolina Star, referred to the hotel as “a house of entertainment,” but primarily focused on the supposed healing properties of the spring’s water.
Buffaloe Mineral Springs
The subscriber takes this method of informing the public that he has established A House of Entertainment at the above named springs, for the accommodation of those who may think proper to visit them, either for the benefit of their health, or for pleasure. To those who intend visiting the springs for the benefit of their health, he can say with confidence, that they will find the water efficacious in the cure of intermittent and remittent bilious fevers, acute rheumatism, taints from syphyliptic complaints, glandular obstructions, and is of peculiar efficacy in diseases of the skin and sore eyes. It has been of great service to several who appeared to have hectic, by speedily restoring their strength. Hypocondrical and hysterical cases are much benefitted. In fine’, from the sensible effects of this water upon the intestines, pores and kidneys, it must be useful in very many of those disorders which render life tedious, and man comfortless to his friends.
The announcement certainly appears introductory in nature so it’s likely that the summer of 1816, if not the hotel’s inaugural season, was certainly close to it..
The hotel remained in the Speed family up until the late 1830’s. During this period, annual items announcing the seasonal opening appeared in nearby Virginia and North Carolina newspapers. Based on these announcements, over the years the hotel was leased and run by various individuals. Some were members of Speed’s family but it was predominantly run by a man named David Shelton who, along with Clem R. Kenon, ultimately bought the property sometime in 1840 or 1841. They actually purchased it from John S. Field and Alexander S. Jones who had purchased it from Speed two years earlier in 1839.
An announcement published in the May 11, 1841 edition of the Raleigh (North Carolina) Register identified Shelton and Kenon as the new owners. It’s clear from this announcement that the resort had grown since 1816.
The subscribers (Shelton and Kenon) having become the owners of the property are tending their means of accommodation, and expect, by the opening of the season, to be able to afford comfortable entertainment to two hundred and fifty or three hundred visitors. Their cabins are well furnished, airy and comfortable – their stables good, with a pump of excellent water in the yard. Their bar will be furnished with the best wines and liquors that can be procured, and their table with the best supplies the country will afford. A band of good music will be always in attendance; in fact they intend to spare neither trouble or expense in their efforts to render this establishment a pleasant and fashionable resort for both the healthy and the sick.
Apparently the business continued to grow and prosper under Shelton who, by 1845, listed himself as the sole proprietor. He would remain the resort’s primary owner throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s. During this period his annual advertisements continued to stress the health benefits of the location. This was Shelton’s 1854 sales pitch, printed in the June 24 edition of the Hillsborough (North Carolina) Register.
The prevalence of disease in the middle and southern portions of the United States, during the past winter and spring, admonish the people to look out for some safe summer retreat, where the ills inflicted by winter maladies may be removed, and, at the same time, secure an exemption from the harassing complaints of the hot season of the year. As a locality propitious to this end, I beg leave respectfully to call the attention of the public to my watering place, the Buffalo Mineral Spring, situated in the upper end of Mecklenburg County, Va., several miles west of the town of Clarksville.
The tonic powers of this water, so potent in imparting tone and vigor to the digestive organs, and its diuretic qualities so efficient in purifying and cleansing the blood, renders it a pleasant and useful remedy in a wide range of disease. Its curative powers are more conspicuously manifested in the various forms of dropsy, protracted intermittent fevers, chronic diseases of the skin, functional derangements of the liver, stomach spleen, bowels, and kidneys, and last, though not least, female complaints, and almost every chronic disease of the pelvic organs in both sexes…
Having been the purveyor to the establishment for many years, I can bear testimony to the astonishing effects of the water on the appetite, and the perfect impunity with which quantities of food may be taken, which under other circumstances, would be wholly inadmissible. To meet this exigency, therefore, I can only promise to do my best in the cuisine department, and will pledge myself to the summer voyager to make no charge against him if his appetite or digestion fail him…
DAVID SHELTON, Proprietor
Shelton’s rate schedule permitted a stay by the day, week or month and he was even willing to care for your horse at seventy-five cents a day.
In addition to the resort’s health benefits, it appears you could have a little fun there as well. During Shelton’s tenure the resort added a billiard room, ten pin bowling alleys and in 1857:
For the gratification and amusement of visitors fond of riding out, I’m am preparing and will have completed in due time, a round trotting track upon a fine surface, where they may ride with comfort and safety.
If that wasn’t enough, they organized and hosted social functions, one of which was an annual knight’s jousting tournament held in full costume. The two day affair included the tournament and a “fancy grand ball,” that featured the coronation of a tournament queen by the successful knight, followed the next day by a balloon ascension and a party. Below, is the tournament’s 1855 announcement published in the September 5, edition of the Weekly Raleigh Register.
Based on their annual seasonal announcements, Shelton owned and ran the resort up through at least 1859, but by the early 1860’s he appears to have been slowing down. The June 11, 1862 announcement in the the (Raleigh North Carolina) Weekly Standard no longer named Shelton as the proprietor but instead indicated that the property had been leased to James Williamson who was running the operation that year.
The announcement went on to make this point:
The location is remote from the theatre of war, and yet accessible to travel.
So, surprisingly, it appears that the resort stayed open for at least a period of time during the Civil War.
Shelton ultimately sold the property to T. Paxson in December 1863 and passed away the following June. Paxson owned and operated the resort up through 1873 at which point he sold a majority interest to Thomas Goode, a former officer in the Confederate army. The sale was announced in the July, 1873 editions of several North Carolina newspapers.
An August 23, 1874 story in the Norfolk Virginian described the accommodations at around the time Goode acquired the property.
The Hotel is a one-story building, containing the ball room, parlor and office – a very admirable arrangement, as no one is so disturbed by the music and dancing. The dining room takes up another spacious building just in rear of the hotel. Scattered all over the grounds and around the edges of the beautiful green, are about 50 cottages, containing some 100 rooms.
It was under Goode that the Buffalo Spring water went from local to global.
Shortly after Goode obtained the majority interest in the resort area another spring was discovered on the site. Their seasonal announcement opening the resort in 1874 led with the discovery.
BUFFALO SPRINGS MECKLENBURG COUNTY, VA. – RECENT DISCOVERY OF AN ADDITIONAL SPRING, decidedly impregnated with the celebrated “Salts of Lithia.” These springs open for the reception of visitors on the FIRST OF JUNE, 1874.
A June 11, 1874 advertisement in the (Wilmington, North Carolina) Daily Journal described the new discovery like this:
The New Buffalo Spring
Mecklenburg County Va.
The Spring, discovered since the last Summer, is shown by analysis, made by Professor Toury of Baltimore, to contain a HEAVIER PERCENTAGE of the Bicarbonate of Lithia than any other AMERICAN MINERAL WATER. In fact it is the
Only Spring in America
containing Lithia in any substantial quantity. It is the ingredient which has given such celebrity to the “Aix-la-Chapelle,” the Vichy and the Carlsbad waters of the continent of Europe.
By that Fall they were exporting the water beyond the limits of the resort. This September 26, 1874 advertisement published in the Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, makes it clear that by then they were bottling and shipping water from both Spring No.’s 1 and 2 under the “Buffalo Lithia Water” name using the half-gallon size; a unique size they would use throughout their history.
In the Spring of the following year local drug stores in both Raleigh, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia began to include it in their local advertisements. These ads for Meade & Baker, Druggists and Simpson’s Drug Store that appeared in the May 11, 1875 Richmond Dispatch and the April 3, 1875 (Raleigh) Trickett-Weekly Topic respectively, both made mention of Buffalo Lithia Water.
In 1878, Buffalo Lithia Water’s long time trademark of a seated woman wearing a long flowing robe and holding a pitcher, presumably containing their mineral water, began to appear in advertisements. The earliest ad I could find that included her attendance was published in the June 22, 1878 edition of a publication called the Medical Record.
Around the same time the word “Lithia” began to appear in advertisements for the resort as well, referring to it as”Buffalo Lithia Springs.”
In 1886 Goode gave up management of the Springs, leasing it to a company named the “Virginia Buffalo Lithia Springs Company.” This announcement marking the change appeared in the June 15, 1886 edition of the (Raleigh, North Carolina) Weekly Observer. Their new rates also appeared in several local newspapers.
According to an open letter to the public that was written by Goode and printed in the September 2, 1886 edition of the Richmond Dispatch this new arrangement lasted less than one season.
To the Public:
I have this moment had my attention called to a card in the Dispatch of the 31st ultimo of the “Virginia Buffalo Lithia Springs Company,” referring to a pending difficulty between the company and myself. I do not propose here to make any detailed statement as to the means of that difficulty. Suffice to say that I hold in my possession a letter signed by Charles H. Royce, president of that company, under date of August 20th, in which he virtually acknowledges the insolvency of his company, and states in express terms that he will not be able to pay the rents upon the Buffalo Springs property due September 1st, and also that he is unable to pay an extension of one half the June rents, a note for which matures on the 15th of September, unless I will take from him in payment stocks instead of money, which stocks I deem utterly useless. These acknowledgements of the president of the company, coupled with the fact that he had ordered the accumulation of 10,000 cases of the Buffalo Lihia Water in the offices of the company in New York, induced me to ask the interposition of a court of equity and the appointment of a receiver to take charge of the property.
Thomas F. Goode
This follow-up item in the June 23, 1887 Henderson (North Carolina) Gold Leaf, made it clear that by the following season Buffalo Springs was back in Goode’s hands, although it took a Supreme Court decision to get it done.
By the decision of the United States Supreme Court Col. Thos. F. Goode is again in possession of the noted Buffalo Lithia Springs near Clarksville, Va., and with many improvements in building and furnishing, is prepared to receive a large number of health or pleasure seeking guest. We know from experience, there is no more pleasant place to spend a couple of weeks in August, or earlier.
Legal issues not withstanding, distribution of their litha water increased throughout the decade of the 1880’s, primarily fueled by advertisements jam packed with testamonials from both doctors and supposedly cured patients. By 1882 it was being advertised in New York area newspapers and by the end of the decade advertisements had reached as far west as California.
Around 1890, distribution was aided further by the addition of a railroad depot at the resort itself. Earlier shipments from the Springs required a 13 mile horse and carriage trip to the Scottsville depot on the Richmond Danville Railroad line. The 13 mile journey included a crossing of the Dan River, described in an August 28, 1874 Norfolk Virginian story as being 50 yards wide and 2 to 4 feet deep. The crossing was facilitated by a “flat manned by one oarsman.” Groundings were not unheard of.
Nonetheless, while demand and distribution increased, their bottling operations up through the turn of the century remained relatively primitive. An August 14, 1889 story in the Richmond Dispatch described it like this.
A visit to the packing-house shows two stout negro men hard at work from morning until night, and often until a late hour of the night, filling the bottles and packing them for shipment to all parts of the country. Great care is taken to have the bottles clean and sweet and to pack them so that no loss is had by breakage while en route to their destination.
Ultimately a new modern bottling plant was opened, but not until sometime in 1910. A news story or advertisement, I’m not sure which, that marked it’s opening appeared in late August, 1910 newspapers across the country.
The story/advertisement went on to say, in part:
We beg to announce the completion of a New and UP-TO-DATE plant for handling and bottling the well-known BUFFALO LITHIA SPRINGS WATER in its natural purity and without loss of its health giving properties…
The spring from which these waters flow is chiseled out of solid rock, lined with white tiling, covered with plate glass and the whole surrounded by triple-reinforced cement walls laid in the natural rock. The water is taken from the spring by means of an air tight pump, silver lined and fitted with silver valves, and forced through lines of block tin pipe into glass-lined steel tanks. From these tanks the water is drawn through silver faucets into NEW bottles which have been chemically treated, washed and rinsed with the purest water under high pressure, and sterilized – all in the most thorough manner and with the latest devices and equipment. Even the air which enters the white-walled bottling room is taken from high above the building, filtered and driven out by powerful electric fans, rendering contamination by dust or otherwise, an impossibility.
The Buffalo Lithia Springs Water retains its medicinal properties to a remarkable degree when bottled and for thirty-eight years past this water has been widely prescribed by the medical profession and no remedial agent has received a larger share of medical endorsation of a high order. Most of this endorsation was given to the use of the bottled water, comparatively few of these eminent physicians having used the waters at the Springs.
Goode passed away in 1905 and by 1908 springtime advertisements confirm that the hotel and bottling business were both being conducted under the name “Buffalo Lithia Springs Water Company.” At the same time, the company began calling the water “Buffalo Lithia Springs Water.”
The formation of the company was likely in response to Goode’s death, however, the American Medical Association, in their June 14, 1914 Journal, suggested that the name change from “Buffalo Lithia Water,” to “Buffalo Lithia Springs Water,” was clearly in reaction to the Food and Drug Act of 1906.
One of the best known, because most widely advertised, of the so-valled lithia waters is Buffalo Lithia Water – or what used to be called Buffalo Lithia Water. After the Federal Food and Drug Act came into effect, by which falsification on the label was penalized, the name of Buffalo Lithia Water was changed to Buffalo Lithia Springs Water. The reason for this change was that when Buffalo Lithia Water was subjected to examination by the government chemists it was found to contain so little lithium that the amount present was unweighable – it could be demonstrated only by the spectroscope. It was evidently, therefore, not a litha water in that it did not contain – at least in quantities that could be consumed – an amount of lithium that would give the therapeutic effects of lithium: Possibly the company imagined that by changing the name from “Buffalo Lithia Water” to “Buffalo Lithia Springs Water” it had cleverly evaded the federal law. Their argument was to this effect: The springs from which the water is taken are known as Buffalo Lithia Springs; therefore, it is not a misstatement of facts to call this Buffalo Lithia Springs Water.
In December of 1910, the federal government formally declared the water misbranded and on February 16, 1914, after years of court proceedings the water was ruled mis-branded by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. The ruling was later upheld by the Court of Appeals in December of 1915.
Ultimately this resulted in another name change, this time to the Buffalo Mineral Springs Water Company. Short-lived, the company defaulted and the property was sold at public auction in April of 1920. The (Newport News) Daily Press reported on the sale in their April 10, 1920 edition.
BUFFALO MINERAL SPRINGS SOLD TO RICHMOND CORP.
The Buffalo Mineral Springs Company’s properties in Mecklenburg County, including the hotel, cottages, water bottling plant, and all mineral rights were yesterday sold at public auction to the Prudential Realty Corporation of Richmond, at a figure said to be in excess of $200,000. H. L. Denoon of Richmond, is president of the corporation. Hotel and cottages it is understood, will be operated by the new owners this summer.
Under the new management the resort was now called the Buffalo Lithia Springs Hotel, but their sales pitch stayed pretty much the same stressing the health value of the waters as well as the resort amenities which, by then, included tennis as well as boating and bathing on a ten acre lake. In the late 1920’s they would add a nine hole golf course.
In addition to operating the resort, the company also continued to bottle and distribute the spring water. Updating the trademark, they now called it “Buffalo Mineral Springs Water.”
Some advertisements now referred to it as a delightful table water and words like therapeutic and helpful had replaced the word cure. One 1922 advertisement put it like this:
For a half-century it has been recognized by physicians the world over for its known therapeutic qualities. It is helpful in the treatment of Bladder and Kidney troubles, Nausea, etc. It is an active antacid Diuretic.
Buffalo Mineral Springs Water is one of nature’s gifts to man – a boon to Scientists and a water of known purity for table use.
The resort would assume new ownership again in May, 1930 when it was acquired by a newly formed corporation called the Virginia Buffalo Springs Corporation. The July 25, 1930 edition of The (Danville Va.) Bee reported planned improvements were in the works.
To Improve Springs
The Virginia Buffalo Springs Corporation, a recently organized company, has taken over from a Richmond bank the property known as Buffalo Lithia Springs in Mecklenburg County and plans to develop this well-known resort into a health sanatorium equal to any in the middle Atlantic states. Roger B. Williams, of New York, heads the newly formed corporation.
The optimistic plans for development never materialized and in 1939 the resort and bottling operation were acquired by a local group that included C. Brooke Temple, along with two partners, George and Ellis Penn. According to a July 31, 1939 story in The Bee:
Announcement was made Saturday of the purchase of the famous Buffalo Springs by C. Brooke Temple of Danville for $25,000. Mr. Temple has made no definite plans concerning the operation of the property as a resort or of the bottling and sale of the famous Buffalo Springs water.
While the $25,000 purchase price as compared with the $200,000 purchase price in 1920 tells you all you need to know about the health of the business, it appears that the bottling operation was still viable, at least to some extent. The July 31, 1939 story went on to say:
Despite the fact that Buffalo Springs water has not been consistently or extensively advertised for over a decade large amounts of it have been bottled and shipped to various points throughout the nation. It can be bought in Danville drug stores today.
Temple apparently kept the resort going, at least for a while. The resort’s opening night dance in 1940 was advertised in the June 10 edition of The Bee.
The following year a story in the August 25, 1941 edition of the Bee announcing an antique auction in the ballroom of the Buffalo Springs Hotel mentioned that the hotel was “open to accommodate guests for meals and lodging.” Whether it operated after 1941 is unclear.”
Temple also continued with what appears to be a scaled down version of the bottling business. According to an October 17, 1939 item in The Bee:
The Buffalo Mineral Springs Company has been granted a charter to bottle and sell mineral water, by the State Corporation Commission at Richmond. The sum of $30,000 is set at maximum capital for this springs recently purchased by C Brooke Temple of Danville.
At around the same time, this October 9, 1939 advertisement in The Bee promised to soon deliver his water locally in five gallon containers.
He delivered on that promise and between 1940 and 1945 it was advertised locally in the larger bottle. The advertisement below was printed in the June 30, 1943 edition of The Bee.
Now simply called Buffalo Mineral Water, as late as 1943 it was still running afoul of the federal food and drug laws. On December 11, 1943 a judgement of condemnation was ordered against one of their shipments. According to the notice of judgement:
On October 21, 1943 the United States attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina filed a libel against 37 5-gallon bottles of Buffalo Mineral Water at Wake Forest, N. C., alleging that the article had been shipped on or about June 21, 1943, by the Buffalo Mineral Springs Co., Inc., from Buffalo Springs, Va.; and charging that it was misbranded.
Examination disclosed that the article was a lightly mineralized water.
The article was alleged to be misbranded because of false and misleading statements appearing in the leaflet entitled “Perhaps…You Might Wish to Know,” which represented and suggested that the article would improve or restore health; and that it was an unexcelled diuretic and would be of great benefit in the treatment of kidney disorders, diabetes, renal calculi (stone in the bladder), inflammation of the bladder, Bright’s disease, constipation, stomach disorders, indigestion, gastro-intestinal disorders, jaundice, liver disorders, alcoholism, rheumatism, neuritis, arthritis, disorders of the nervous system, influenza, colds, and children’s diseases.
Finally, a May 27, 1944, a story in The Bee announced that Temple had bought out his two partners and had become the sole owner. The story went on to say that by then he had sold most of the resort buildings.
Regarding the bottling portion of the business it said:
Temple proposes, after the war to develop a bottling works there. Spring No. 5 has been found to be suitable for carbonization and this, he says is to be further developed.
In September, 1945, Temple went so far as to advertise for an operating manager for his bottling plant.
As far as I can tell, the Spring No. 5 plans never materialized beyond that point.
The bottle I found is a mouth blown example of their characteristic half-gallon size and includes their embossed “robed sitting lady” trademark. It was likely made around the turn of the century.
Also embossed with the words “Buffalo Lithia Water,” you would think it contained the water from Spring No.2, however, this may not be the case. According to an article in the November 8, 1900 edition of The (Richmond, Va. Times) they were still bottling the water from both Springs No. 1 and 2 at that time.
The article which was focused on the unlawful refilling of their bottles, described how to make the distinction:
Some unscrupulous dealers seeing the opportunity of enriching themselves at the expense of the public, and to the detriment of their customer’s health, have resorted to refilling Buffalo Lithia Water bottles with ordinary water…
It should be borne in mind that Buffalo Lithia Water is sold in half-gallon bottles and no other way, and that water sold from the siphon, or in goblets, or in any other way whatsoever, is not the genuine. Every cork of the genuine Buffalo Lithia Water is branded either Spring No.1 or Spring No. 2 and upon each cork is the seal which bears the trade mark and again the number 1 or 2, according to the Spring from which that bottle has been filled.
In addition to the cork the respective Spring No. was also indicated on the label. A fully labeled bottle that recently appeared for sale on the Internet clearly indicates Spring No. 2 on the label.
How long they continued bottling water from both springs is not clear.