Restoring Excelsior Springs’ Famous Mineral Waters

Friends of the Wells committee meeting
Friends of the Wells committee members meet on Thursday, June 8, 2023. Photo Courtney Cole

Excelsior Springs, a city renowned for its mineral waters, has faced a prolonged absence of public access to these cherished resources. The historical significance and pivotal role of these waters in community development have motivated the Friends of the Wells committee to advocate for their revival. On June 8, 2023, the committee gathered at the Hall of Waters to strategize the necessary steps to reintroduce the mineral waters to the public.

Among the various wells reviewed during the meeting, Soda Well #1 emerged as the most economically viable option due to its location on the Hall of Waters grounds. TR Kennedy, Hall of Waters Building Superintendent, shed light on the significance of Soda Well #1, explaining that it was the top-selling well. Drilled in 1937, this well, situated 30 feet below the building, penetrated the bedrock and provided a steady temperature of 57º throughout the year. The water from Soda Well #1 was not only enjoyed in its natural state but also used in the production of flavored drinks and even Pepsi during the city’s ownership of a bottling plant.

The intervention of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) mandated the replacement of the wooden wells with metal piping, which necessitated the City to cap off the wells. However, due to funding limitations, none of the wells have been capped. Concerns were raised about the condition of the pipes and the mineral content of the water. The committee discussed the possibility of scoping Soda Well #1 to assess the pipe’s condition and conducting tests on the well water to determine its mineral properties. The estimated cost of these investigations has been $17,000-18,000 in the past.

Betty Bissell highlighted the financial efforts already made by the committee, with the Downtown Excelsior Partnership and Excelsior Springs Community Foundation offering a financial path. Fundraising events, such as the one held at Dubious Claims in July 2022, have generated $7,767.15. Additionally, the Excelsior Springs Community Grant Program has awarded $2,000 to Friends of the Wells for the Soda Well #1 project. To move forward, TR was tasked with collecting bids to ascertain the exact costs. The committee also plans to collaborate with the State’s Historic Preservation Office and pursue grant opportunities, including the Our Town grant and the National Endowment for the Arts grant.

Darryl Couts, a volunteer at the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives, expressed the frequent inquiries about the whereabouts of the mineral waters, reflecting the community’s interest. While the focus has traditionally been on the tasting experience, the meeting acknowledged that even a simple fountain or a way to interact with the water could serve as a meaningful initial step. Previously, the Friends of the Wells committee concentrated on rebuilding the pagodas surrounding the wells in downtown Excelsior Springs, including Lithia Spring Pavilion, Crystal Lithia Pavilion and the Park Calcium Pavilion.

Citizens interested in learning more or getting involved should visit the Friends of the Wells website at friendsofthewells.org. There you can find information on past projects, current efforts, and contact information.

Link Soda and Sulfo-Salt Spring Gazebo
Link Soda and Sulfo-Salt Spring Gazebo. Photo Courtney Cole

Additional Information

In 2012, a survey conducted by Deon Wolfenbarger of Three Gables Preservation aimed to identify and document the condition of historic mineral wells, springs, and pavilions in downtown Excelsior Springs. Moreover, in 2016, archaeological students from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, led by instructor Daniel Pierce, successfully excavated the Regent Spring well site, revealing its original steps and a deeper location than previously believed. These surveys contribute to the understanding and preservation of Excelsior Springs’ mineral water heritage. While some well sites currently reside on private property, City Manager Molly McGovern confirmed that the City owns the mineral waters well system. She cited a historic lawsuit from 1935 that recognized the public interest and necessity of managing these resources for the benefit of citizens.

Bottling of the mineral waters once took place in the basement of the Hall of Waters, where bottles were manually capped by city workers. However, in 1971, the state health agency ordered the community to cease hand-bottling due to violation of state law. Three months later, new bottling equipment arrived, and the operation was relocated to a facility on Isley Boulevard. The City operated the bottling plant as a Pepsi franchise until it was shut down by the Attorney General, who deemed that the resource could not be used for profit as a city entity. Subsequently, bottling returned to the basement of the Hall of Waters, where city employees continued the process alongside their other responsibilities. Despite several attempts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the revival of the mineral waters has remained elusive.

The Friends of the Wells committee’s meeting on June 8, 2023, demonstrated the community’s commitment to reclaiming Excelsior Springs’ renowned mineral waters. By exploring the potential of Soda Well #1 and pursuing financial support and grant opportunities, the committee aims to make these waters accessible to the public once again. As Excelsior Springs seeks to restore its water heritage, it embarks on a journey to recapture the essence of its past and share it with future generations.

If you appreciate the value our local journalism brings to the community, please consider making a recurring contribution to the Excelsior Citizen!

Dearing Delivers: Junior Clinches Team Conference Title for Excelsior Tennis
ESHS Commencement was a Jubilant Farewell for Class of 2024
ESHS Awards Night Highlights Senior Achievements
Other Trails, Fizer’s, Morgan Honored with Historic Preservation Awards
J&J’s Stocking Up for Grand Opening Later This Month
City Council slide with the Hall of Waters in the background
City Council Recap for May 6th, 2024

1 thought on “Restoring Excelsior Springs’ Famous Mineral Waters”

  1. Richard Turner

    I was personally involved with overseeing the water bottling operations during the 1980s and 90s for the Missouri Dept of Health. I am now retired, and have tried to reach out to this committee a couple of times with no response. The first step on any of these wells should be a screening for the nitrate level. A test kit can be had for about $100. If the nitrate level is too high, the well should not be considered for future use. To remove nitrates would also remove any mineral content.

Comments are closed.

News for and About Excelsior Springs!

Get the Excelsior Citizen e-newsletter delivered straight to your inbox each week. It’s a collection of the best news and events all focused exclusively on Excelsior Springs. No fluff just local news and information you can trust!

Free Newsletter Signup