Imperial Baths at Sharon Springs
Located in Sharon Springs, NY
Photo © 2007 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Imperial Baths at Sharon Springs History
The small town of Sharon Springs NY was an early destination for wealthy Americans searching for the "water cure," an ideology which embraced natural healing powers of minerals dissolved in naturally occurring springs. Natural spring water was touted as being a cure for various afflictions, including arthritis, rheumatism, stomach disorders, headaches, diabetes, and a myriad of other ailments. One of the first commercial ventures to use these springs was started by David Eldredge in 1825, where he established a boardinghouse near the waters; over the next few decades, numerous hotels and bath houses were constructed. In 1884, Dr. Alfred W. Gardner built the Inhalation Bath House, which featured a water fountain that dispersed sulphur gasses into the air to be inhaled. The town quickly became a fashionable resort destination once a rail connection was established, and prominent families such as the Vanderbilts, Van Rensselaers, and President Grover Cleveland made Sharon Springs a stop on their annual summer vacation tours.
Over the years, three "temples" were constructed on top of the springs, and are still extant to this day. The Magnesia Temple (ca. 1863) was a cast iron pavilion in Renaissance Revival style and designed by L. Burger. The dissolved Magnesia in this spring reputedly cured stomach disorders such as heartburn, and when taken full strength it acts as a laxative. The Chalybeate Temple (1910) is a simple pavilion over an iron-rich spring, and was especially useful in treating cases of anemia and diabetes. These waters were said to have enough iron salts to turn one's teeth brown, but was still bottled and sold for medicinal use. The White Sulphur Temple (1927) is an elaborate, Beaux-arts style pavilion designed by Alfred Gardner that replaced an older structure. A shallow tub inside let patrons "take the water" while breathing in the potent aroma; the sulphur was regarded to having an all-around curative effect, rather than a treatment for specific diseases. The water at the sulphur temple flows year round at 48 degrees F. The Blue Stone Spring was so effective in treating afflictions of the eye it was often called the Eye Water Spring, and is still used today by Sharon Springs residents.
Direct inhalation of the sulphur fumes was considered the most curative for nasal and respiratory diseases. With the client seated, the vapor would be delivered through a glass cone (in later years, the apparatus resembled more of a small mask). A spittoon was provided for clearing the throat. Other treatments included the Fango pack, a type of mud treatment that used volcanic material from Europe, and the pulverization treatment, where atomized spring water was forced into the air in a room, where a guest could comfortably read a book or relax.
Eventually the "water cure" fad began to diminish in the 1890s and wealthy patrons gradually sought the horse racing and gambling amenities provided at Saratoga Springs, but Sharon Springs developed a new identity as a Jewish resort. Many of these new patrons were from Europe, especially Germany, where baths and health spas were still quite popular, and so more hotels were constructed well into the 1920s. In 1927, the Imperial Bath house was constructed on Main St. It provided 43 tubs, private resting rooms, four douche rooms, and four massage rooms. The nearby Lower Bath House (1876) was renovated and given an arcade entrance, and the White Sulphur Spring Temple was given its ornate pavilion which became a symbol for the community.
Despite these new amenities, the town fell into decline, although there was a small resurgence after World War II. Here, Holocaust survivors could relax in the baths surrounded by the safety of their German-Jewish culture. Despite this haven, the opening of the New York State Thruway in 1954 diverted traffic from the county road that passed through town and decreased tourism even more, leaving many of the baths and hotels neglected and falling into disrepair.
In 2015, redevelopment of the site begun with a Korean investor named Kyu Sung Cho, who plans to rehabilitate historic structures at the site that can be saved into a resort spa, and also renovate as the historic Adler Hotel later on. His vision and progress can be found online.