Mineral Springs were once very popular here in the South as large hotels and sometimes whole communities and bottling works developed around them as people were drawn to the mineral waters.
An old postcard illustrating the once grand Borden-Wheeler Hotel dining room and a walk over old stones and around what was once considered to be therapeutic springs helps recall what was once a crown achievement in northern Cleburne County in northeast Alabama.
In the late 1800s the town of Fruithurst, Alabama was becoming an internationally known wine colony as over 800 residents settled the area to grow grapes on 3,000 acres and turn them into some fo the best wines made at that time.
Homes, businesses, packing houses and wineries soon expanded the growing town and the crown jewel was the Fruithurst Inn, containing a grand staircase a a rotunda lobby large enough to accommodate musicals or a full orchestra.
The inn was built in the Victorian style and drew visitors from around the world.
The Fruithurst Inn’s Christmas menu for 1898 featured a wide selection of food and drinks including Bisque a la Prince soup, salted almonds, snapper cuttels, potatoes beignets, port wine, Fruithurst sherry, boiled leg of mutton, roast turkey, roasted young geese and assorted cold dishes, vegetables, pastries and desserts.
In addition to the lodging, the foot at the inn was considered some of the best in the South. Many guests were surprised to find such an extravagant menu in what was considered by many to be an out-of-the-way location.
The inn was one of the focal points of the town and helped make a positive impression on visitors and potential residents of the colony.
With C.H. Andrew as proprietor, the Fruithurst Inn in 1898 served a Thanksgiving lunch of Columbia River salmon, a variety of vegetables, raosted leg of lamb, roasted sirloin, shrimp salad, unfermented grape juice, dry claret and Fruithurst claret, pastries and desserts.
The inn served as a major meeting place in Fruithurst and entertainment was offered in the grand lobby during certain times. The meals served were always considered of the highest quality, so many were disappointed when the inn closed.
Nationa prohibition coupled with what some believed to be financial mismanagement, saw the collapse of the wine colony beginning in the early 1900s about the time a group of 12 men from Georgia formed the Borden-Wheeler Company and purchased land from the Wheeler family on which a mineral spring was located.
The group purchased the Fruithurst Inn and employed the J.C. Bass Company of Carrollton, GA to take it apart, piece by piece, and carry it 16 miles with mules and wagons over a mountain and reassemble it as the Borden-Wheeler Hotel.
The finished product consisted of 125 rooms with nine concert pianos, running hot and cold water, a large outdoor swimming pool, electricity, a dance pavilion and a 14-hole golf course.
Dotting this display of opulence were a number of guest cottages with maid service, running water and electric lights.
The Borden-Wheeler Hotel became a well-known resort; the properties of the mineral water were promoted as being “a close second to Ponce de Leon’s famed Fountain of Youth.”
The facility offered every apointment possible and employed a staff of 40, but the rates of $15 per week or $50 per month (equivalent to $314 and $1, 040 today) were not high enough to keep the operation profitable and soon it was up for sale.
In 1935, after numerous changes of ownership, a fire swept through the hotel and 20 of its cottages.
Today the hotel site is a cow pastuer and the springs are almost hidden with bushes but some people continue to bring plastic jugs to take home some of the “healing” water.