Small towns can hide big secrets. Some secrets can be unpleasant, but others turn out to be a miracle.
In the case of Millry, Ala., its secret was never much of a secret, but all the same it has something that today many people would never know about. People who are aware of the area’s gift from nature say a local spring can cure an array of ailments and diseases, from skin rashes to kidney and bladder infections.
Imagine the late 1800s. Horse-drawn carriages, dusty dirt roads, railroads, cotton gins, women in heavy cotton dresses working in the garden and men sweating for a couple dollars pay in the saw mills. While this time was closing in on the turn of the century, normal middle-class citizens still couldn’t afford the luxuries of new-age technologies that were becoming available in the United States.
Lack of technology came with lack of medicines as well. Ailments various in nature plagued townspeople, especially in small towns where connections to medicine were mainly inaccessible. A cure-all remedy for common illnesses was a dream… or at least until the discovery of Millry’s secret in 1872.
According to Millry legend, the springs were discovered long before 1872, but not well-known until around that time. The legend goes that a young injured Indian warrior living in the region stumbled across these springs to clean a lesion on his leg. After daily use, the lesion healed and the water was thought to have been the cure. When the area started becoming populated, the springs’ presence became known to locals. After claims of its clear waters healing numerous conditions, more people around Washington County and Alabama started traveling there to bathe and drink from the 17 springs on the property. Thus the Healing Springs were born.
Motivated by the springs’ popularity, William Wooten, in the early 1900s, built a two-story bed-and-breakfast hotel and several cottages for visitors and promoted the property as a “place for health and pleasure.”
With multiple changes of ownership, amenities grew over the years resulting in two separate spring-fed pools visitors could bathe and swim in, as well as other spring outlets that were left free-flowing.
The current care-taker, Mary Dearmon, of the springs today explained in detail about the pools.
“That was the first swimming pool in Washington County,” she said, pointing over to the black waters of what is now just a pond. “It had a board bottom in it, and they later upgraded to a second brick- block pool.”
Much of the board and blocks are gone from the pools now. Grass and brush line the sides, but the other springs have updated boardwalks carrying visitors over the marshy land to pavilions that encompass PVC pipes churning out spring water. The land is simple now, the cottages gone and simple red dirt roads twisting their way down to each of the springs. When the hotel and pools were in operation, the scenery was much more extravagant. With various buildings, walkways and pavilions, the grounds were of utmost sophistication.
Along with the addition of the second pool in the 1950s, the new owner established the Healing Springs Industrial Academy, a three-story structure youths attended because of the water and the warm climate, which burned down later. A church was built on the property, and the hotel and cottages were added onto.
The springs thrived for most of the 20th Century, welcoming visitors to stay and enjoy the bathes. Locals established the property as a social gathering place where the men and women would dress in their Sunday best and sit on the boardwalk that circled the pools, dangling their feet in the water, and on other days young people would come to swim and play.
Out of the 17 springs on the property, three of them were the most famous.. The Mound Springs catered to women, supposedly curing female diseases such as dyspepsia, indigestion, stomach aches, eczema, sores and all skin problems, while another called Creek Springs was said to treat kidney, bladder, urinary ailments and Bright’s disease.
The third spring, Iron Springs, contained large amounts of iron and helped treat chronic constipation, piles, chills, malarial fevers and was a blood builder.
So, a cure for common illnesses was found in the small southwestern town of Millry, Ala. It was advertised in papers as a “delightful all-year health resort” and would ship bottles of the spring water “to any address.” Attested by hundreds of people over the 75 years of operation, people to this day still travel from all over to sample the springs’ water.
“We’ve had people come from Missouri and all over the world to drink the water. You never catch a break. There are always people coming in to get water. One day I sat outside and I bet I counted at least a hundred vehicles coming in here,” the care-taker said as she gestured to the property.
So where do the special healing powers of these springs come from? No one is completely sure, but locals assume it’s the small amount of dissolved minerals that combine together in the water.
The closing of the pool and hotel in 1961 led to a down-sizing of the amenities at the springs. Now, only the main two-story hotel and an additional 4-room guesthouse, where the caretakers live, mark the entrance.
Surrounded by woods so dense with yellow pines, sunlight’s long fingers barely touch its floor. The springs are easy to miss if a visitor isn’t searching for a break in the woods. Down about a mile from Millry’s town center along a road littered with potholes, the springs hardly announce their presence.
A dirt road cuts between the two main buildings and down to the springs. White signs nailed to trees by the road offer insight into the springs. The first sign at the entrance asks visitors to respect the property. The second sign is much more poignant.
It’s a place hidden to most outsiders now. Traveling south down U.S. Highway 43, take a slight right onto County Road 34 and keep straight making sure to watch out for the potholes and changes in pavement texture. The road cuts its way through fleshed out forests that create a twisting tunnel of green to navigate, curving like a writhing snake, the road finally opens up to the only stoplight in Millry. Taking a left on the main road, you will pass “Sookies,” the main gas station and diner. Turn right onto 1st Avenue and keep straight for about a mile and the Healing Springs will be on your left.
Millry’s 700-person population grants it the title of a small town. A main street, a high school, one bank and a town hall that holds only one office and an attached police station are the main components of the town.
Though small on size, the people of Millry are big on generosity. Anyone is willing to direct a lost traveler to their right path, pointing out stop signs buildings and landmarks to help them on their way. With a warm smile they will offer places of interest, people to talk to and friendly advice, telling you to come back if there’s anything else they can do.
Small towns can hide big secrets, secrets in the form of helping hands and springs with healing powers.
The second sign at the Healing Springs:
“A thought… Man can make many things. Only God can make a spring. We have found the water to be healing… We hope it will do the same for you.”