The Springs Era

The Springs Era

In 1869, Richard Dunbar began an age unparalleled in its extravagance. In the forty years from 1870 to 1910, the village of Waukesha experienced drastic changes. It saw the installation of close to 50 different springs including Silurian, Lethain, Horeb, Arcadian, and White Rock springs. The city experienced visitors of fame and wealth from all over the Union, enormous and ornate resorts, shipments of famous Waukesha Water with destinations all over the world, shocking scandals, and profitable entrepreneurs.

Waukesha became a national tourist attraction and resort location. It's difficult to envision our city so drastically different, as many of the urban landscapes now present were then beautifully decorated parks filled with sparkling springs. Ladies in hoop dresses toting parasols were escorted down the streets and through the gardens of the city by men in frock coats and top hats. Fancy stagecoaches pulled by teams of horses pulled up to the many hotels.

Men and women arrived in the hundreds by train every day, and made their way to lounge on stone steps or in park benches where they could comfortably drink the healing waters and relax. Concerts, parades, and dances were regular occasions, drawing crowds of people. Waukesha was gardens, with flowers of all colors, pools and streams, paths through groves of trees and shaded spring houses.

Hotels were everywhere, the most famous being the Fountain Spring House, occupying an entire city block. It was an age of extravagance and show, where the rich and famous people from all over the United States came for relaxation and respite from the troubled world of the post civil war reconstruction.

One year after her son’s death, Mary Todd Lincoln visited Waukesha seeking the healing powers of the water. She stayed at a boarding house located on West St. Paul Ave for nearly a week before leaving to see other parts of the state.

Other Waukesha visitors were Solomon P. Chase, a U.S. Supreme court justice, and former President U.S. Grant. Chase was quite a frequent visitor, and had been here from the start. He was a good friend of Richard Dunbar, and was present at the ceremony where Dunbar laid the cornerstone for his hotel. Ulysses S. Grant was not here as often as Chase, but he did visit every few years.