Remembering Mudlavia – Another Hoosier Wellness Spa

 By Joy Neighbors

Wellness resorts were hot commodities in the late 1800s. Travelers went to Hot Springs, Arkansas and Saratoga Springs, New York to "take the waters.” And of course, French Lick and West Baden, Indiana were home to two well-known health spas where the wealthy could enjoy spa treatments, and some time away from frantic society events. But there were several such spa-based hotels located in the Hoosier State.

Mudlavia Hotel
One was situated in north western Indiana, near the town of Kramer. The Mudlavia Hotel was home to the healing Mudlavia Mud Cure and Lithia Water Baths where guests were packed in hot mud before bathing in the hot mineral waters. The standard prescription was to "take the cure" once a day for the 21 days for maximum benefit.

The water's curative powers were discovered when a local farmer, digging a ditch, realized that as he worked in the mud, and drank from a nearby stream, his arthritis began to lessen. Soon he didn't hurt at all - he was cured. 

Mudlavia Springs
When word spread, H.L. Kramer bought the land and built a large hotel where he housed the healing water baths. Visitors came from around the country seeking a cure to their rheumatism, consumption and other serious health conditions.

But Mudlavia was not seeking the “typical" resort guest. The hotel brochure stated, “Who comes here, leaves vice behind.” A nice way to let the wealthy know that no gambling, drinking or other "amenities" offered at the lavish resorts would be tolerated here.

Mudlavia’s guests were also older adults, mainly in their 50s through 70s with health problems usually brought on by age. Men were the more frequent visitors to the hotel. Most were middle class with occupations such as bankers, mangers, teachers and salesmen. 

Most treatments took 21 days so the guest was at the hotel for at least three weeks. At the end of this time, if you were not “cured,” then another round of treatments were called for, which would last another 21 days. Many could not afford to stay any longer, and numerous people left without relief.

Mudlavia had a good reputation in the Midwest for it's curative mud and waters. But then on February 29, 1920, a fire was discovered in a hotel linen closet and the Mudlavia Hotel burned to the ground. There was talk of rebuilding but with the approaching Great Depression, no one was interested, nor could they afford to seek the cure anymore. French Lick Resort had the good fortune of the Cook family’s interest in preserving these two historic hotels for future generations. Mudlavia did not fare as well.

Mudlavia falls into disrepair
The structure fell into disrepair but was rallied as a home for the elderly during the mid-20th century. It was then remodeled and housed a restaurant before burning down again in 1974.  Although the hotel is now gone, the water was still being bottled and sold under the Cameron Springs brand until 2008 when the FDA banned its sale.

Want to learn more about the golden age of the “healing waters?” Step back in history with Indiana Landmarks and tour French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel. You’ll discover who came to stay and play here, and just what was so special about Pluto water and Sprudel Water, two big sellers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tours of each hotel are offered every day.  Visit Indianan Landmarks for details.