James F. Sulzby, Jr., the Birmingham realtor who founded the Alabama Historical Association in 1947, shared his personal passion for local history in Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts. The bland title obfuscates the diligence to detail within. Sulzby’s chronicle reveals the early development of Alabama by land speculators and land grant companies, many of which purchased land, discovered a mineral spring, and created a resort around these “therapeutic waters”, in that order.
The cloudy Saturday started slowly at the Coryell Castle- piles of laundry to fold, sort, and put away almost distracted us from the call to adventure. Then I stumbled across a chapter called “Windham Springs” and the sirens started. Love for laundry aside, Patrick and the kids didn’t take much convincing. Off we went in search of Windham Springs which we knew from Sulzby’s book was “located on Crabbe Road, twenty-five miles north of Tuscaloosa, in the extreme uppermost part of Tuscaloosa County”.
Sulzby’s description of Windham Springs, which was called the “Fountain of Youth” while the resort was in full operation, bore reading aloud in the car. The name comes from Levi Windham, formerly of Pickens County, who first established this formerly-famous watering hole:
After obtaining title to the land, Mr. Windham returned to settle there. He brought along fifty slaves to clear the land, and upon completion of that work he possessed a beautiful farm. The immediate area surrounding the springs was left in its natural state because of its picturesque beauty, and became known as Windham Springs.
In 1850, Mr. Windham built a hotel and six cabins… After Mr. Windham discovered the curative qualities of the mineral waters on his place, the news spread throughout Tuscaloosa and the adjacent counties like news of a new patent medicine. The water was “reputed to cure rheumatism, toe itch, colic, stomach acidity and most any other sort of ailments.”
Max jumped in to exclaim that his toe itched due to fire ant bites, and he looked forward to being cured of this annoyance. I told him that there might be reason to expect such a cure since George Christian, father of Northport businessman T.W. Christian, had supposedly been “cured” of a “severe case of eczema on his legs which the doctos were unable to cure” by soaking his legs in water from Windham Springs.
Though Mr. Windham apparently enjoyed a drink- the hotel’s saloon really took off- local churchgoers did not approve. The legislature passed a bill prohibiting the selling of alcohol within five miles of nearby churches, which meant Windham’s saloon had to be shut down. After the Civil War (consistently described as “The War Between the States by Sulzby), Mr. Windham lost his slaves and couldn’t operate the farm or hotel anymore. The acrerage and resort were sold to Sam Friedman and Company of Tuscaloosa.
Sam Friedman added several new cabins, bringing the total to twenty cabins, at Windham Springs. He also leased the hotel and cabins to local operators. The “curative effects of sulphur water continued to attract people to the resort and often there were three to four hundred people there at one time”. Sulzby notes that “traveling drummers who made trips out from Tuscaloosa, Jasper, Fayette, and Carrollton stopped at Windham Springs regularly because of the good hospitality, cool nights, and good meals.”
On the fourth Sunday in May of 1917, tragedy struck the resort when a tornado rolled through and “blew practically everything away.” The cabins, stores, houses, and the Baptist Church in the area were levelled. Houston Clements, who had been managing the hotel, barely escaped with his life when the entire hotel save for two rooms, one of which he used as storm shelter with his family, was destroyed.
In 1933, Joe Christian purchased the Windham Springs property from Friedman and Company. Professor T.E. Christian who taught school in various parts of Tuscaloosa was still living on the property when Sulzby’s book was published in 1960.
As we drove along Crabbe Road, it soon became clear that there was not going to be a Windham Springs sign or any easy access route from the road. We stopped at Field’s Grocery and Patrick went in to inquire about the healing sulphur waters. Mr. Fields told Patrick that he used to “drink that water all the time and it tasted gooo-o-o-d”. As for directions, we needed to turn left at the curve in the road with mailboxes and trailers onto a dirt-road winding around the back.
Milla makes her way down to the mysterious spring.
The ladies stare with slight horror at the tap water running into the creek.
The sulphur water tap is still running- and look at the white residue!
Micah finds the spring and the tap where Max waits.
Patrick was the only one brave enough to taste the spring water, which smelled distinctly of old eggs.
More butterflies to chase if you decide to cavort around the Windham Springs area
The WTTO Tower, supposedly “one of the tallest constructions on earth”
Alabama Pioneers’ geneological history of Windham Springs
The Windham Springs Baptist Church nearby on Crabbe Road
Goodwater Cemetery, home to several Christian and Dunn headstones
Field’s Grocery on Crabbe Road- to get the scoop from Mr. Fields