The Strange History of the Brunswick Springs

©2009 by Joseph A. Citro

In Vermont’s fabled Northeast Kingdom there is a Magical spot that Ripley’s Believe It or Not once called “The Eighth Wonder of the World”: The Brunswick Mineral Springs. Six individual streams of water run side by side from the same knoll. Strangely, the mineral content of each is vastly different from its neighbor’s. They are: Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, White Sulphur, Bromide and, for the most daring, Arsenic.

The springs are all but forgotten now, but in precolonial days, they were well known to Native Americans as “Medicine Waters of the Great Spirit.” Their curative powers, the Indians believed, were a precious gift to be shared.
The first recorded miracle cure was in 1784 when Indians brought a wounded British soldier to the springs. They used the “Medicine Waters” to heal his damaged arm.

But free sharing soon became free enterprise when colonial businessmen saw an opportunity to sell what nature gave for free. The Indians objected; a fight started; two young Native Americans were killed.

The mother of one, a shaman, spoke these words. “Any use of the waters of the Great Spirit for profit will never prosper.” It seemed like a warning, but proved to be a curse.

For a century, all was well. Boarding houses opened, providing travelers with convenient access to the springs.

Then, in the mid-1800s, something happened that changed the economic face of Vermont. Railroads spread their iron arteries throughout the state making trips to the springs almost effortless.

Dr. D.C Rowell opened a hotel called “The Brunswick Spring House”. It prospered until the good doctor made a fatal mistake: he opened a bottling plant. For the first time, the waters were for sale.

Perhaps the Great Spirit saw that the waters would be forever lost to all but the wealthy.

In 1894 the hotel burned to the ground.

Determined, Dr. Rowell rebuilt, calling his new operation “Pine Crest Lodge”. He prospered until he passed away in 1910.

Now, with the twentieth century up and running, the worst collision with the supernatural was about to occur.

John C. Hutchins, of nearby North Stratford, NH, looked at the springs and saw a gold mine. With Robert Ripley promoting, and the railroad furnishing transportation, how could he lose?

He bought the place. Then, on September 19, 1929, the hotel burned. Okay, it was a freak accident. Why give up on a good thing? Mr. Hutchins decided to replace it with a grander resort. A local contractor with the unlikely name of Harry Savage worked his crew all winter to complete the hotel by springtime.

It was a showpiece! Four-and-a-half stories high, a hundred rooms, plate glass windows, and a 155-foot terrace. Staff were hired, guests had reservations, and two elegant Packard limousines were ready to taxi folks from the railroad station.

On May 15, 1930 – just one month before the hotel was to open – the night watchman spotted smoke billowing from a storage room. Before he could call for help, the phone lines snapped, cutting him off from the rest of the world. Flames raged. By midday, the hotel was a maze of twisted pipes and smoldering timbers.

But if the Great Spirit was trying to tell him something, John C. Hutchins wasn’t listening. Two fires in two years were not enough to discourage him. Mr. Hutchins would build again.

By now, Harry Savage’s crew was in practice so the new hotel went up easily. By spring of 1931, it was ready for business. They remembered everything but the shaman’s words, “Any use of the waters of the Great Spirit for profit will never prosper.”

On April 23, 1931, John C. Hutchins’ third hotel burned to the ground. Apparently, it was enough to make him a believer; he never tried again.

And, in the many years that followed, neither has anyone else.

This piece is on loan from Joseph A. Citro, who holds all rights. Do not use all or any part of it without his permission. You can get all the details about The Brunswick Springs and many far weirder tales in his book Cursed in New England: Stories of Damned Yankees.

Old steps leading towards the spring. Photo courtesy of Joe Citro.