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The Healing Waters of "Ye Coole Springs of St. Marie's"
The site of the Second Oldest Hospital in the Colonies
Story by Kathy Warren
It seems that spas are the rage these days: mud baths, body wraps, and hot
stone massages to name just a few luxurious procedures. Years back,
however, treatments like these were medicinal rather than cosmetic. The
ill and infirmed flocked to healing places in hopes of curing a myriad
of sicknesses. And sometimes, they sought out these places because they
were desperate to save a life.
As medicine grew, the need for these healing refuges and miracle locales slowly declined; many fell out of favor and were replaced with traditional medicine. Some healing destinations were even forgotten-such as a small group of springs located in the northern end of St. Mary's County in Charlotte Hall.
When the colonists first arrived in Maryland, they brought with them the rudimentary medical tools of the day, and usually just one general practitioner or surgeon as they were often called. What they left behind were conveniences such as hospitals and sanitariums dedicated to treating the sick. Along with the lack of more advanced medical supplies, they encountered new and different illnesses brought on by their new environment and altered diet.
Papers discovered around the turn of the 20th century indicate that the earliest settlers in Southern Maryland were concerned with the health and welfare of those living in the area. Father Andrew White wrote to Lord Baltimore in late February of 1638, just four years after Maryland was founded, explaining the need for better medical care and his concern over the colonists' diet and well being. He alludes to the "eating of flesh and drinking salt waters and wine by advice of our Chirurgian." (Chirurgian, also spelled chirurgien, is the French term for surgeon.) And it appears that Father White was unhappy with the care and advice of the surgeon or doctor who was serving the area during that time.
In the same letter, Father White suggests to Lord Baltimore that constructing a hospital would be prudent to care for those who become ill from their bad eating and drinking habits, and to further act as a place to prevent them from indulging in such unhealthy excesses.
His advice fell on deaf ears among the ruling powers of the time, as there is no record of any medical facilities constructed in the colony until the end of the 1600s.
It was at the end of the 17th century that a "pestilence" plagued southern Maryland and most predominately Charles County. Documentation on the cause or exact disease that spawned the epidemic is vague and unclear, but it affected a large number of people and was thought to be devastating to the population of the colony then.
Religious controversy also plagued the area during the late 1600s. William III of England, a Protestant, deposed King James II, a Catholic, to become King of England, Ireland, and Scotland in 1689. This change in power brought about a backlash against practicing Catholics. King William III ruled the British Isles jointly with his wife Mary II, until her death in 1694, and their time on the throne is commonly referred to as the reign of William and Mary. They were also the namesakes for the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where in 1693 they granted a charter for the establishment of a "Place of universal Study" where, among other things, young men could study philosophy to prepare for ordination into the Protestant Church of England.
With the colonies under the rule of such a powerful protestant monarchy, there was a renewed disdain for Catholicism that reached even to the colonies. Southern Maryland, which had once been a safe haven for Catholics, was now scrutinized by the crown.
Another fact that had come to the attention of those affected by the pestilence and the government was the curative powers of some unassuming springs, located in what is now known as Charlotte Hall. These springs were said to have amazing properties that cured those who bathed in them and drank their waters.
A prominent Southern Maryland colonist, Mr. Philip Lynes, appeared before the Governor's Council in June of 1698. The proceedings of that meeting are noted in a document (held by the Maryland Historical Society):
"Mr. Philip Lynes appearing at the Board and giving an Acct. of some Extraordinary Cures lately wrought at the cool springs in St. Mary's County & that several poor people flocked thither to recover their health and Limbs. His Excellency the Governor is to send & give to those Poor People at the said springs ten Bibles these to remain for the use of the poor people that Comes thither."
It was further ordered that a house and property which included the healing springs, owned by Captain John Dent, also be equipped with reading desks and benches so that the "Poor" people could gather for the reading of prayers twice daily, to receive rations of Mutton and Indian Corn on Sundays, and to take advantage of the healing waters of the cool springs.
Seemingly generous in nature, these orders were clearly motivated by the politics of the day, as the same house, land, and cool springs designated by the Council, were flatly dismissed when brought to their attention in a letter from Captain Dent. The letter, no longer in existence, is duly noted in an entry of record as follows, "As to Captn. Dents Lr. About the Coole Springs it is looked upon as an Idle Letter not worth an answer." A reversal of opinion regarding the healing powers of the springs was a clear indication of how the government and religion were so intertwined during this period. Once the ruling powers felt they could use these curative waters to their political advantage to win the favor of the plagued colonists away from the Catholic priests, they began acknowledging the importance of the springs and made provisions there for treating the sick.
In October 1698, a proclamation was issued by Governor Nicholson for "publick" thanksgiving for the "Coole Springs" and their healing waters. The Governor also recommended that a building be erected near the springs for the continued care of the colonists. On October 20, 1698, an act was passed to allow the purchase of the springs and adjoining land from Captain Dent for the purpose of building a hospital.
It would be another year before these buildings, which appear to have consisted of several small cottages, would be built and they would serve as the second oldest hospital in all of the colonies. Captain Dent, who still maintained land near the springs, petitioned the General Assembly to operate an inn or "ordinary" near the springs as their healing reputation had spread far and wide among the other colonies.
Little is known about the springs following those early years of pestilence until the late 1770s when the now famous Charlotte Hall School was established on the same property. The springs would have been ideal for providing the school with plenty of fresh, pure drinking water, so it was a natural choice for the school's location.
Throughout much of the 20th century, many locals knew of the springs as simply a place for playing in the water on a hot summer day, most of them unaware of its historical significance. The waters have been tested to see if they possess special minerals that allude to their healing powers; it's believed that their pure waters were their secret.
Today, "Ye Coole Springs of St. Marie's" have slipped into the history of St. Mary's County. Only a historic marker and a gate indicate how important they once were in saving the population of our earliest residents.
The Springs are located off Charlotte Hall School Road in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. Stop at St. Mary's County Welcome Center at the corner of Route and Charlotte Hall School Road for further direction.
This site contains select articles from our hardcopy
magazine from the past ten plus years.
As such, some of the information in this particular article may no longer be current.
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