Stafford Springs, Mississippi

by

Keith Eddins Wilkerson

 

Before the days of the interstate highway system, cross-country travel in this nation was conducted mostly on the network of federal two-lane highways. A classic example, US-11, meandered through Mississippi from Meridian down to New Orleans. About forty-miles south of Meridian, along a series of rolling hills and two miles southeast of Vossburg, US-11 passes through a largely forgotten spot of historical importance named Stafford Springs.

 

Stafford Springs came to be named after a confederate veteran who settled near the town of Vossburg following the War of Northern Aggression. Soon after his arrival, Captain Edward W. Stafford made an interesting observation. The few remaining Choctaw Indians, who had managed to evade deportation by the Federal Government to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma, often brought their sick or ailing to drink from a mineral water spring located in his pasture. The Choctaw called the spring "Bogohama", or "Water of Life" and, as Stafford observed, many of those who drank appeared to profit some relief.

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Edward W. Stafford

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The Original Edward Stafford Home

 

 

Edward Stafford Home in later years of decay

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One thing led to another and it wasn’t long before the white man had adopted the Indian’s belief in the spring.  It is reported that the water was sent out for testing and a Congress of Medicine, held in Chicago, IL, proclaimed it to offer great benefit to those suffering from Bright’s disease and other kidney and bladder ailments. As testimony to the curative qualities spread, a group of capitalists formed the Stafford Mineral Springs Company, Limited, and incorporated in Louisiana on May 19, 1892.  The oficers are listed as follows: President: C. Livingston, Vice President: Dr. Rudolph Schiffman, both of St. Paul Minnesota, and G.L. Colburn, Secretary and Treasure, of Stafford Springs.On March 7, 1893, the group formed the Stafford Mineral Springs and Hotel Company, Limited and soon built a bottling works that could produce two railroad carloads per day. The Stafford Inn, described as "a large and comfortable hotel, with wide porches, airy rooms, comfortable office, bath rooms and all modern conveniences," opened in 1899.  The owners promised that "rates are reasonable" . [1]

 

Thereafter, people began to travel from all over the country to bathe and drink from the waters of life. Most of them arrived by rail in the town of Vossburg, met by a taxi carriage and ox drawn wagon loads of mineral waters.

 

 

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It's obvious from this extremely rare 1902 leterhead that the Stafford Mineral Springs was considered to be located in Vossburg, MS. Somewhat later, it gained it's own identity and became the location now known as Stafford Springs, MS.

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A very rare item, one of the original five-gallon carboys used to ship the mineral water. This one survived for many years beneath my grandmother's house and, nowadays, has become a flower vase.

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One of the smaller one-quart consumer jugs. I have managed to find two of these with the paper labels still intact, despite the fact that they are over one hundred-years old. One was located in Connecticut and the other in New York - a long way from Jasper County.

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Stafford Mineral Springs Water was sold in "Carboy, Bottle, or Jug," and always contained the registered trade mark, a "‘RED HEART' and the word BO-GO-HA-MA, printed upon it in White Letters upon a black background".  The half-gallon bottle was apparently colorless with a single-part finish, for use with corks, and paper label.  On the label was printed STAFFORD/MINERAL SPRINGS/WATER above the red heart with THE/BO-HO-GA-MA/(WATER OF LIFE) OF THE INDIAN in an upward sweeping arc.  On both sides of the heart were claims for the water's curative properties followed by finer print that is illegible in the drawing in the booklet.  The final lines stated Stafford Mineral Springs & Hotel Co. (in script)/of NEW ORLEANS, LA. [1]

 

 

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The Public Fountain housed in the Gazebo that was situated in front of the Hotel near US Hwy -11

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The Old Hotel from a 1906 Promotional Booklet

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Click here to see some enlarged details of this postcard

 

 

The original dirt and gravel US-11 looking north - C 1928

 

 

Young girls posing at the Stafford waystop on US-11 - C 1928

 

 

Young lady posing on the Stafford waystop bench on US-11. Hotel can be seen in the background. - C 1928

 

 

Couple posing at the Stafford waystop on US-11, looking south - C 1928

 

 

Quiet walkway leading to the hotel - C 1928

 

Dr. Schiffman and his partners owned stock until 1918, when it was transferred to A.L. Staples of Mobile, Alabama. In 1925 Staples and company sold the property to a group of Meridian Mississippi businessmen, reported to have included a Mr. Repshur and a Mr. John Perry. For a short period of time, this same group, or Perry alone, also held the local landmark known as Lake Waukaway. In 1930, Dr. E.M. Galvin purchased the property and moved his family to the site..

 

With the advances seen in medicine during the 20th century came a loss in faith by the general public for the curative powers of mineral waters. Clients stopped coming and the resort fell victim to economic hardship and decay. The Great Depression certainly played a role in the reduced patronage. Sadly, the old hotel was torn down around 1956. I personally remember riding down to the site with my grandfather to purchase some of the used lumber. He used it in the construction of a house which, as of 2003, remains standing in Vossburg.

 

Parallel to the demise of the health resort, new life was introduced into the property. In 1952, the site was subdivided. The Gavins withheld their home site while selling the hotel properties to a Florida investor by the name of Landstreet. Landstreet, and possibly others unknown, also owned the Pinehurst Hotel in Laurel, MS, the Hotel King Cotton in Memphis, TN, and the Nobel Hotel in Blytheville, AK.

Thanks to the popularity and affordability of the automobile, America was becoming a mobile society. Motels were springing up along the highway systems and Stafford Springs seemed like a strategic location. On the opposite side of US-11, a modern motor lodge and a café was constructed.

 

 

 

 

 

This facility was operated from around 1952 until Interstate I-59 replaced US-11 during 1967. Soon thereafter, the loss of passing traffic brought with it deep economic hardship.  

 

In 1961, John L. and Dorothy Blanks assumed management of the Stafford Springs property. Mr. & Mrs. Blanks, seasoned Gulf Coast motel veterans, who had previously managed the Trade Winds Motor Court in Biloxi, orchestrated a major overhaul of the facility. In addition to the upgraded motor lodge, a Dude Ranch theme was added. Horses, trail rides, authentic Indians in costume [a Choctaw indian who went by the name of Cooley Jim. He also worked at the summer camps for children held at Lake Waukaway], chuck wagon meals, a stagecoach, and a horse drawn hearse (rumored to be the one used to transport Jesse James to his final resting place), were listed among the attractions. The Dude Ranch operated for a number of years, but there simply wasn’t enough business to prevent the inevitable demise of the facility.

 

Mr. Blanks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Bill Eddins for these Dude Ranch Era Photos!

 

 

Concerning the water, in about 1958, I remember my grandfather stopping at Stafford and taking me inside the old stone sided water building. Inside, a black employee, wearing rubber boots, was working to manually fill a large number of glass jugs. This was accomplished by positioning multiple jugs on a workbench and filling them with a water hose. Wooden crates, specifically designed to cradle the glass bottles, were used to ship the water. At that time, the train no longer stopped at Vossburg and they were forced to ship the water by truck. The volume sold was apparently very low and a majority of the business stemmed from local customers. I'm not sure of the exact date that bottling of the water ceased, but I'm sure that it had stopped by the time that the property was converted to the dude ranch theme.

 

For a while, the motel rooms were rented out as apartments and the restaurant was opened and closed by a few different owners. For a number of years,WilliamLittle Bill" Martin, of Vossburg, operated a gas station in the remains of the old stone sided water building, first built in 1886.

 

All known commercial activity ceased at Stafford Springs during the 1980’s, somewhat short of a centennial celebration. Nowadays, the large roadside sign and a few of the abandoned motel buildings are all that remain. On the opposite side of the sparsely used US-11, a private residence stands near the original site of the resort motel. Despite all of this disruption, Bogohama continues to flow, just as it did when the Choctaw first discovered it.      

 

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The remains of the Motor Lodge Restaurant building with the Dude Ranch sign in the background

 

 

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The remains of one motel room duplex

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Home that now occupies the site of the old hotel. Concrete in foreground is the old curb that surrounds the reclaimed motor lodge swimming pool.

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The remains of the public fountain and the spring. The once ornate gazebo has been replaced with this spartain version.

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Click Here to View Vintage 1950's Stafford Springs Promotional Materials

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Click Here to View Vintage Stafford Springs Post Cards Dating From 1900

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Click Here to View Other Sites Within the Stafford Springs Community

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[1] Lockhart, Bill 2000 Bottles on the Border:  The History and Bottles of the Soft Drink Industry in El Paso, Texas, 1881-2000.  Townsend Library, New Mexico State University at Alamogordohttp://alamo.nmsu.edu/~lockhart/EPSodas/ )

 

 


The following obituary, published in a Kansas newspaper during 1915 underscores the faith that people of the past century held for mineral water:

 

Obituary of R. D. Jennings

A Former LeRoy Citizen

 

R. D. Jennings was born December 25th, 1869 in Queenstown, Pennsylvania. Had he lived until next Christmas day he would have been 46 years of age. He died at Vossburg, Mississippi [Stafford Springs], Wednesday night, September 29th, 1915.

 

Being raised in the oil district of the East he early entered the occupation of a driller and worked in both the Pennsylvania and Ohio fields. In the spring of 1904 he came to Kansas and located in LeRoy where he engaged in contracting the drilling of oil and gas wells. After the oil business became slack in this vicinity he went to California where he secured a position as superintendent of production for the Mascot Oil Co. near Taft. They returned to Kansas in the spring of 1913 and make their home in LeRoy until a few days before his death. He was afflicted with heart trouble complicated with Bright's disease and becoming discouraged with the progress of his case here went to Vossburg, Mississippi to try out some mineral waters there. The telegram announcing his death came to LeRoy last Thursday morning.

 

 

According to a letter from Mrs. Jennings, from Queenstown, Pennsylvania, whither the body was taken for interment, his death was very sudden. His condition was very bad on the Sunday and Monday before his death but on Tuesday he seemed much better and on Wednesday also. That evening he ate a little supper and hot long afterward while Mrs. Jennings and their son Ralph were in the room and he was sitting up he suddenly fell over and was gone.

 

Mrs. Jennings states that they have no definite plans at present. Her LeRoy friends expected that she and the children would come back to LeRoy soon as her business interests are here but she states that they will probably remain in the east with her own people until spring.

 

Mr. Jennings was a member of the Masonic lodge of Kittanning, Pennsylvania and belonged to the Scottish Rite bodies of Masonry in Kansas City, Kansas. He was also a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, belonging to Abdullah Temple at Leavenworth, Kansas. He carried $2000 in the Yeoman lodge belonging here in LeRoy.

 

Mrs. Jennings states in her letter that words cannot express her appreciation of the kindness of her friends here but intimates that it will be impossible at this time to thank each one individually.

 


These pages are a work in progress. While every attempt has been made to include accurate historical information, some error may be included. I invite corrections, additional information, additional photographs, and accounts of personal experience. Please contact me at the supplied address. Very little has been documented in regards to the dying towns and landmarks of east-central Mississippi. With your help, I hope to put together a few pages that we all can pass along to our grandchildren. Thanks!

 

Keith Wilkerson

 

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