Linda Carroll-Bradd researches Nineteenth Century Health Resorts

Before I started writing An Agent for Dixie, book #73 in the popular Pinkerton Matchmaker series, I had a rather contemporary view of health spas and resorts. Of course, I had read about the waters at Bath in Somerset, England, from various regency titles over the years. But those books don’t go into much detail about what people actually did while they were there. I always assumed Bath was more like a popular destination where people went to be seen or to make connections.

Public baths were popular in Roman times and were often not located at a natural hot spring. Under the level of the pool, water was heated in boilers with wood fires. The location usually had three rooms with pools of different temperatures. A bather could use each in his choice of order or soak in only one. The warm pool was called the tepidarium. The caldarium contained hot water, and here slaves would rub perfumed oil over their masters and then scrape off oil and loose skin with a knife. The cold bath, where bathers swam, was called a frigidarium. 

Over the years, public baths went in and out of fashion, related to fears of catching certain diseases, as well as times when they were seen as places where political dissidents met. In the 16th century, ancient medical texts were recovered in Italy containing information about balneology, the science of the therapeutic use of baths. Chemical composition of the water was analyzed to determine which natural spring might help which ailment. More and more, “taking the waters,” or balneotherapy, became a doctor’s directive for the patients who could afford to take time away from their daily live for “the cure.” Another reason was that doctors didn’t have other remedies, before the invention or development of modern medicines, to recommend for certain maladies. Better to prescribe something than to admit their lack of knowledge.

In the 1800s, especially in mountain locations, health resorts sprang up throughout Europe and the United States (more so in the 2nd half of the century) where thermal pools had been discovered. Some people experienced an improvement in their health by drinking the mineral waters (usually from cold springs). Others were told by doctors that the hot mineral waters helped conditions like gout, arthritis, muscle strains, skin conditions, rheumatism, and lumbago. Often, mud treatments, massage, or restricted diets became part of the regime.

Owners of the natural pools hoped people would come to the location and linger, so hotels and/or boarding houses were constructed near the thermal pools. In the grander hotels, entertainment and activities were offered for the times the guests would not be partaking of the waters. The amenities ran the gamut from nature walks to game of croquet and shuffleboard to concerts and balls, depending on the clientele. Because of the variety of offerings, some enthusiasts made a circuit of visiting several locations during the summer months.

Health resorts that appealed to the citizen possessing modest means offered camping spots or minimal shelter
and advertised the benefits of sleeping outdoors. Some churches conducted their revivals at certain resorts, and annual traditions were born.
 Armed with this research, I had great fun in inventing a resort town with a spa in the grand fashion of an Italian bathhouse.

Foreign diplomacy is the Zivon family business but Alexei resists the polite constraints, not lasting a year in law school. The four successful years working as a Pinkerton agent prove he was meant to follow a different path. Now, he’s faced with the biggest challenge of his career—training a female agent who has no practical skills. Alexei figures he can convince her to just observe as he solves the case, because nothing will interfere with his success rate.

Since childhood, Dixie LaFontaine lived in her older sister’s shadow but applying to become a Pinkerton Agent is her first major decision. Being matched with confident Alexei is intimidating, especially when the assigned case involves them pretending to be brother and sister at a health spa where jewelry has gone missing. Dixie has no qualms about pretending to be a French heiress needing care for her arthritis. Soon, she falls victim to Alexei’s charm and realizes that hiding her feelings might be as hard as ferreting out the thief among the spa’s clientele.
Will Dixie focus on learning the skills of an agent, or will she concentrate on turning her marriage of convenience into a lasting love? You can check the book out on Amazon.


Have you ever been to a health spa or read about them. I’m giving away an e-copy of An Agent for Liana, book #63 in the “Pinkerton Matchmaker” series.

Loner Dale Claybourne is not afraid to face down thieves, swindlers and even murderers. But he quells at having to train a female agent. Gregarious Liana LaFontaine yearns for a taste of the adventurous life of being an agent. Impulsive by nature, Liana jumps into situations she doesn’t have the experience to handle. Dale fights his growing admiration for this French beauty while keeping close to guard her safety. At odds over almost everything, the pair has to solve the mystery of who is stealing from a Virginia City saloon—a task made even harder because of the wild attraction that shouldn’t be present in a marriage of convenience.

 

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20 Comments

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  1. When I visited England I went to Bath. It was fascinating. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Sigh. How lucky you were to see it in person.

  2. No I have never been to a health spy but have read a little about them. Not sure I would want to go to one this day in time.

    1. No, not in today’s environment. My story is a historical so I could pretend our current situation wasn’t their reality.

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    Good morning! Very interesting blog! I grew up close to Mineral Wells, Texas which is home to the once world renowned Baker Hotel where many famous and well-to-do went to partake in the town’s medicinal mineral water. The hotel has been in ruins for decades and has been purchased and is supposed to be returned to it’s original splendor. I hope this pandemic doesn’t change that and it is restored. I’ve never been to a spa resort but it would be awesome to experience it. I’ve never read one of your books but hope to get 5he opportunity. Stay safe during these difficult times.

    1. Stephanie,
      Part of my research involved the spas in TX. I, too, thought the Baker Hotel was interesting. Maybe I’ll set a future story there.

  4. Interesting blog. Thanks for posting.

    I have never been to a health spa, yet …

    1. Alisa,
      thanks for commenting on the post.

  5. This is some interesting facts. Oh but I would not want to be the one where my servant takes a knife to my skin. LOL. I have never been to a bath. I have been to numerous hot springs, but they were not used for bathing or drinking. Just the mist off of them was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your book.

    1. Lori,
      thanks for sharing your experience. I was surprised at how many mineral baths existed in the 1870s

  6. I’ve read about a few health spas. The closest I’ve been is to a modern one for a massage, and then it was because I’d been given a gift certificate!

    1. Trudy,
      Lucky you for receive a gift certificate like that. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I have never been to a hot spa but would love to go.

    1. Vicki,
      Maybe in the future when society reopens an outdoor mineral bath will be a popular destination. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I have never gone to a spa. I have a friend who actually lives in Bath. She sent me a lot of pictures and information years back.

    1. Janine,
      I wonder if your friend is bothered by the arrival of all the tourists when the “season” hits. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Deer Park Hotel in Western Maryland was a resort to the wealthy and to politicians post-Civil War till the late 1920s. Fortunate to be a stop on the B&O RR line, people came from all over. Known for the water from the Deer Park Spring, it was sold commercially, but also used in the pool and Turkish baths. You may have heard of it–Deer Park water. I don’t think they actually get the water from Maryland anymore.

    1. Denise,
      What an interesting detail that I’ll tuck away in my “story ideas” file. Almost all my stories are set west of the Mississippi River but I might write another story centered around a resort. Thanks for the details.

  10. I grew up not far from Saratoga Springs, New York. In the 1800’s it was developed into a European style spa. Prior to that, the local Native Americans used the healing waters of the springs to heal illness and injury. They bottle and sell their mineral water for a restorative drink. It is a lovely town and spa. While on vacation last summer we stopped by Liard Hot Spring along the Alaskan Highway in B. C, Canada.. Very hot water came out of a little spring fed cascade into an upper pool that had gradients of hot to warm water. Over the dam into the small river the river gradually cooled off. The area has been nicely developed.

  11. Patricia,
    I used Saratoga Springs water in IN HIS CORNER, a novella where a boxer thought the bottled water helped in his fitness. I even contacted someone at the office to learn what type of stopper would have been used in the 1880s. I’m sure the office worker thought I was strange. Cool details about the AK hot springs. Alaska is one of my wish-for destinations. Thanks for stopping by.

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