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Mineral Water Boom Born

As the American Civil War was ending in 1865 and Americans returned to their "New Normal" the persistence of illness and plague, especially in larger city and mos tprevalently during the hot summer months, enhanced the desire for "Fresh Air" vacations. A news article of the time put it this way.

"Change of Air - Whether there is any real progress in medicine is often questioned.; but however this may be, it is certain there is progress out of it. It is being gradually replaced by other restorative agencies. The old practice of treating disease by drugs has, to a very considerable extent, given way to hygienic measures, and among them change of air is increasingly sought by invalids of all countries. This resource is becoming more and more available to the invalid classes with the multiplied facilities of cheap and comfortable travel."

One such vacationer, C. Bainbridge Smith Esq., while traveling at the recommendation of his doctor stopped in St. Albans, VT on his was to Canada. Suffering from forms of oral cancer he sought relief. The proprietor of the Weldon House gave Mr. Smith water from the Sheldon Spring. The healing powers were such that his tongue was healed and upon returning to New York City argued a case in the courts without difficulty. Seeing the benefits of the water and sensing the opportunity to make a profit, M.r Smith returned to Sheldon and bought "Kimball Springs" and developed what would be the Missisquoi Springs Resort kicking off a boom of development inviting tourism.

   
The Congress Hall

Although not the first hotel in Sheldon, the Congress Hall provided perhaps the most elegant hospitality of all accommodations in Sheldon. S. F. F Carlisle partnered with New York City physician Dr. S. S. Fitch in the acquisition of land in "Olmstead Falls" later known as Sheldon Springs. Henry Mower, who owned the store and the land in conjunction with several other businessmen sold out in 1868 with Henry moving his "store" from the site to the opposite side of the road via oxen.

The "Hall" built during 1868 and 1869 open for business on July 4, 1869 just one year before the railroad that helped in grow and prosper after began bringing guest to the nearby rail station.

Various news article between 1868 and 1870, covered below, depicted the structure in elegant terms that included not only this fashionable three and one-half story structure to the right but also a large bottling plant and two bath houses with both hot and cold mineral water.

Although not as widely publicized as the Missisquo we did find advertisements and promotions in papers of the time from Burlington, VT., Boston, MA., Hartford, CT., Philadelphia, PA., St. Louis, MO., Brooklyn, NY., and Chicago, IL.

A certain European appeal resulted in international travelers visiting who received special attention with imported Danish Cognac as attested to by shipping manifests of the time.


Directly to the west of the Congress Hall stood one bottling plant and two bath houses shown to the right. They stood at a location near the current Sheldon Town Waste facility. The "Hall" can be seen here in the left foreground. The path comes off the St. Albans to Richford plank road. The spring, still in existence, produced up to 1,000 gallons of water each day by virtue of a wind mill pumping water for the bath houses, the Hall and for bottling. Manifests of the time show hundreds of crates of water shipped worldwide.

A recent exploration of the area in company with a professional geologist revealed the "spring" with "mineral" water in abundance and was sampled for testing. Additional investigations, including some digging at the supposed location of the bath houses, uncovered "copper" nails. This construction using "copper" nails and copper siding for the bath houses is mentioned elsewhere.

This second view of the Hall more clearly shows its structure and elegance. Additional information will be cited in the news articles of the time below.

During the season ending in October 1872 the resort is said to have increased sales by $2500 and to have realized a profit of $500 for that season. Although not prospering to the degree it originally did the Congress Hall continued in existence until 1906. Miss Emeline Fitch, daughter of Dr. Fitch, transferred the property to the Catholic church. Services had been held in the dining hall for some time prior to that. They continued to own the property until a fire from a chimney flue on December 22, 1908 destroyed the structure.

St. Anthony's Church no occupies the site.


News Reports

Burlington Times Saturday August 22, 1868 quoting the "Messenger"

The Mineral Baths at Sheldon - "The Messenger says that the new bathing house of the Sheldon Spring is now completed, and the mineral baths will be open to the public today. The house contains, besides a reception room 16 by 18 feet, an elegantly finished ladies' siting room with two dresssing rooms, each communciating with three bath rooms. The reservoirs are copper lined and supplied with every applaicance of modern invention for the invigorating cold bath or the luxurious warm bath."

The Boston Globe Saturday August 16, 1873

Congress Hall
Dinner Bill of Fare, August 10, 1873

"Green Turtle Soup, Fresh Salmon and Drawn Butter, Boiled Chicken, Roast Beef, Turkey, Lamb. Entrees - Chicken Salad, Macaroni and Cheese, Vegetables - New Potatoes, Green Peas, String Beans, Cabbage, Sweet Corn, Beets, Onions, Cauliflower, Pastry - English Plum Pudding, Blackberry Pie, Lemon Pie, Desserts - Ice Cream, Wine Jelly, Coffee, Tea"

Hartford Courant Friday June 18, 1880
Congress Hall, Sheldon Springs, VT

Situated on the Missisquoi River, eight miles from St. Albans will be open for guests the 15th of May. The house is finely located, with the billiard rooms and bowling alley attached to the hotel, and free to guests. The table is excellent being well supplied with milk, butter, and eggs from the hotel farm. Drainage is perfect and water supply is abundant and pure. The noted Sheldon Spring, with it finely appointed bath houses, is situated near the hotel. Both hot and cold baths are given to guests only of the Congress Hall at a trifiling expense, and the remedial effects of the water and the agreeability of the climate are too well known to need extended comment. ........


Saint Albans Daily Messenger Thursday May 15, 1873

Congress Hall - This fine hotel at Sheldon Springs is now open, but summer guests are not expected for two or three weeks yet. The members of the Franklin County Medical Society enjoyed an excellent dinner here Tuesday. Dr. Fitch, the proprietor, is there and intends to spend more time there this summer than heretofore. An extensive green house and hot beds have been established in the gardens, so that the table will be sure to be supplied with luxuries, and the neighborhood accommodated with choice and early plants and vegetables. Dr. Fitch has also set up patent refrigerators on the premises, in which any kind of meat may be frozen in two hours and kept as long as may be desired - the cost not being over ten cents a day for a thousand pounds of meat or butter. This he can serve venison, brook trout, oysters, and most any kind of game the year round and perfectly fresh and sweet. The prospects for the house for the coming season are good.

   

The Saint Albans Weekly Messenger Friday August 27, 1869

Congress Hall is the name of a new house built and owned by Dr. S. .S Fitch of New York, who is the principal owner of Sheldon Spring. It stands near the Spring, just a little off the plank road from St. Albans to Sheldon and is about a half a mile from the Missisquoi House. Not longer ago than last April a small dwelling house occupied its site and its material was in the lumber yards and the stores. On the 20th of July it was open, was speedily filled with guests and has since turned several away for want of room. It is 30 x 90, three stories high, contains 38 sleeping rooms and has a L 18 X 26 in which the kitchen and store room are located. Each story opens on a spacious veranda, which affords and excellent promenade and view of wild and romantic scenery surrounding. The house is very plain, but a better table is not found often anywhere........

Saint Albans Daily Messenger Tuesday April 3, 1900
Congress Hall Robbed

"George Joubert, of Highgate, was arrested yesterday and lodged in the county jail in this city charged with theft of sundry articles from Congress Hall Sheldon.
Complaint was made Friday March 30 by Mrs. M. A. Bryson of New York City that a large quantity of furnishings consisting of hair mattresses, pillows, crockery, silverware, etc. had been taken from the hotel."

Other measurement quotes:
A report from1870 states that the building is 4 stories and measures 123 feet by 96 feet and will accommodate from 100 to 150 guests at a time.

A report from the St Albans Weekly Messenger dated August 27, 1869 reports the building to be 3 stories, at 30 feet by 90 feet and having 38 rooms with an L shaped addition containing the kitchen and store room.

A report from the St Albans Daily Messenger of July 1868 reports the building as being 150 feet by 38 feet with 75 rooms.

Who really knows. The photos above can be your source.

Swanton Courier Thursay December 24, 1908
Fire At Sheldon Springs

"Congress Hall, the old familiar hotel building that has stood at Sheldon Springs for so many years as a reminder of the former days of tourist activity in this region, was burned between 12 and 1o'clock Tuesday morning. The fire caught from a chimney in one part of the building used as a tenement. The building was given to the Roman Catholic diocese of Vermont several years ago."

Publications Of Interest

Vermont Historical Society Publication 1976
"Vermont as a Resort Area in the Nineteenth Century" (PDF)

The Waters of Sheldon" by Margaret Crowe Kimball (PDF)

Brnnington Banner Thursday Dec 24, 1908
Old Landmark No More

"Congress Hall at Sheldon, an Abandoned Hotel Destroyed by Fire"
Sheldon Dec 23 - "Fire at an early hour this morning destroyed Congress Hall, a four story frame building which was a noted summer resort in the days when springs were a Mecca of American tourists."