Martinsville, Indiana: City of Mineral Water

"Martinsville, Indiana, City of Mineral Water”
Martinsville Springs in the “Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding”

From Chapter V, “A Camera Helps” in “The Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding”:

….But just then Lloyd waved her handkerchief to some one coming down the avenue, and turning, Gay's face brightened. It was Kitty Walton to whom Lloyd had waved. Strolling along under a white parasol, in a pale pink dress and with a great bunch of sweet peas in her hand, she looked so attractive, that Gay felt that Leland would find The Beeches fully as entertaining a loafing-place as The Locust.  She decided to take him up there. Again she was doomed to disappointment, for Kitty's cordial greeting was followed by the almost breathless announcement that she was about to take her departure from the Valley.

"Oh, when?" called Lloyd, turning to the girls with the friendliest of smiles, and acknowledging Mr. Harcourt's greeting with a frosty little bow. "When, where and whyfoah?"

"This evening," answered Kitty, "over to the Martinsville Springs in Indiana, and because mother is firmly convinced that they are the panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to. Really they do help her wonderfully, and she needs the change, and I like the place myself so I'm not sorry to go for some reasons. But I do hate to take ten whole days out of your visit, Gay."

In 1885, artesian mineral springs were discovered in Martinsville (Morgan County), Indiana. That discovery and the bath house/sanitarium boom that followed led to Martinsville’s development as health resort.  At one time, about a dozen sanitariums were offering their “healing” waters to tourists, who traveled to the “Artesian City” or “City of Mineral Water” by rail and road. When “The Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding” was written in 1907, the sanitarium industry was at its peak. Starting around 1930, the industry declined and the last Martinsville spa closed in 1971.

According to a book of family memories written by Ada Darle Dryden Sweet, whose husband, Dr. Edward Sweet, opened the National Sanitarium at Martinsville in 1895, Mary Craig Lawton (“Mrs. Walton” in the Little Colonel stories), and her daughters, Frances (“Allison”) and Catherine (“Kitty”), often availed themselves of the waters at the Martinsville Sanitarium, where the Sweets once had the opportunity to meet them:

"These were the years of great activity in the school life of the children.  These were the years when books of all kinds made their greatest appeal.  And these were the years (1906 and 1907) when the books of the ‘Little Colonel’ series were annually appearing to fascinate young and old readers.  The original of these thrilling tales lived in the Pee Wee Valley, Kentucky, the home of the author and of the family of Gen. Lawton of Philippine fame.  The widow of the general and her two young daughters, sometimes accompanied by the ‘Little Colonel,’ were frequently guests of the Martinsville Sanitarium, where we once spent an evening with them ...”

Located just 150 feet from the train station, Martinsville Sanitarium, “Where Rheumatism Meets Its Waterloo,” offered healing baths for the treatment of diseases of muscles and joints, stomach, and kidneys for 60 years, from 1897 to 1957. Charges in 1911 were $18.00 to $35.00 per week for a room and treatments.

From a letter Mrs. Lawton wrote to Annie Fellows Johnston in 1906, we know she suffered from arthritis and may have gotten much relief from the hot baths, which her fictional counterpart, Mrs. Walton, called “the panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to”:

I have been suffering with an acute attack of rheumatism that subdued me as nothing else could.  Monday I got both tired and mad, dragged myself up, hobbled downstairs on crutches and had the Creighton's & Gatchels to supper. 

Allison Walton=Frances Lawton (standing)
Kitty Walton=Catherine Lawton & the Little Colonel (seated)
Photo taken at Martinsville, Indiana
ca. 1906-8
(and again with many thanks to Jeffrey Butler, great-grandson of Ada Darle Dryden Sweet, for sharing his family history.)


Vintage Views of Martinsville

colorized photo of the Martinsville Sanitarium. Notice its location along the railroad tracks

We can just see Hattie Cochran and the Waltons
sitting in these wicker chairs on the sun porch.