Citizen Spotlight: Dennis Hartman

Dennis (driver’s side) and his father enjoyed participating in Gatsby Days festivities (photo Kevin Morgan).

Dennis Hartman has never strayed too far from his home in Excelsior Springs. After graduating from Excelsior Springs High School he attended William Jewell and then returned to his hometown to work in finance for more than 20 years. As a teenager, Hartman worked at the McCleary Clinic as a bellhop where he learned firsthand about the rich history of Excelsior Springs. One of his many jobs at the McCleary Clinic was changing the water jugs when they’d get low. It was there that he was able to sample the various spring waters that Excelsior Springs is known for. “The best by far was the Calcium, the iron-manganese was like drinking water out of an iron skillet, just a real metallic taste. The soda water, which tasted like a seltzer, which I never cared for, and then the sulpho-saline,” he said with a pause. Hartman said that the sulpho-saline was a natural laxative, and when ingested, especially warm, would “go right through you” At the McCleary Clinic they would tell guests to wait until they got to their room to drink it, but many didn’t listen and on more than one occasion guests wouldn’t make it back to their room in time.

Dennis (right) and his father outside the Hall of Waters (photo Kevin Morgan).

Hartman said he really started getting interested in the history of the community when his father shared a postcard of the McCleary Clinic with him. “Dad had a postcard of the McCleary Hospital, and once I saw it I got into collecting [Excelsior Springs] postcards,” he said. After postcards, Hartman collected water crocks, and then he added visitor’s guides to his collections. “I must have 60 or 70 of the old magazines put out by the Chamber of Commerce and Railroads,” he said. Hartman said he learned a lot of the community’s history just by looking through those. An unusual artifact that Hartman has collected is mineral crystals produced by the clinics and hospitals in Excelsior Springs. The crystals were produced from the various mineral waters and were designed to be taken home by visitors and stirred into a glass of water so they could get the same benefits as drinking the local waters. Hartman said the production of the crystals took place in what were called, appropriately, crystal houses.

After Hartman retired he became more involved in helping to preserve the history of Excelsior Springs. He helped co-found the Friends of the Wells preservation group which is working to restore some of the original mineral water wells so that visitors (and locals!) can sample the various waters once again. Hartman also volunteers at the Hall of Waters, giving tours and sharing his vast wealth of knowledge with those who come in for visits. He’s also co-authored a book about the Hall of Waters and has another book about the history of the Elms Hotel in the works. Hartman says he wishes more locals would take pride in our history and work to preserve the many treasures we have here, including the Hall of Waters. “It’s one of a kind, it’s the only one in the nation and the other four [water bars] were in Europe,” he said pensively. Hartman concluded by saying that Excelsior Springs has a lot going for it right now, including good industry and growing tourism, but historically significant structures such as the Hall of Waters and the Elms Hotel are what really set Excelsior Springs apart. “The shops are nice, but without this,” he said gesturing to the great Hall, “we’re not any different than anybody else.”

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