2013-08-22 / Opinions

Across The Savannah

A Sip of Spring Water
By TOM POLAND

Would you pay $150 for a typical tank of gas, say 15 gallons? Don’t say “no” if you drink a lot of bottled water. Do the math. You’ve done something worse.

A gallon of gas costs around $3.15. Well today it does. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Let’s say a one-liter plastic bottle of water (.264 gallon) costs about $2.50. That means a gallon of bottled water ought to run about $10. Given water’s absolute role in life that seems right but we’re talking price gouging for a somewhat free commodity. Water, life’s most essential substance, costs three times more than gasoline when it comes in a plastic bottle. Fill up a car’s 15- gallon tank with gas and it will cost you $47 and some change. Fill that same 15-gallon tank with bottled water, and it will cost $150.

And where, pray tell, does bottled water come from? Deer Park Spring Water Company, a division of Nestlé, bottles natural spring water. The original source of the water was a spring near Deer Park, Maryland. Its water now comes from additional springs in Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Michigan. Good for Deer Park, but let’s be honest about so-called spring water bottled in plastic. A good many bottled water companies that label their water as “purified” or “natural spring water” confess they’ve been filling their bottles with tap water. Pepsi admitted Aquafina is public water. That’s quite a confession since Aquafina’s name and packaging lead you to believe it comes from natural springs, known also as a rising or resurgence.


Better than most city water in plastic. Photo by T. Poland Better than most city water in plastic. Photo by T. Poland Fancy words aside a spring is where water flows to the surface. Hook me to a lie detector and ask me if I’ve ever taken a cool sip of water from a spring and I must say “no” although some dim memory says I did a long, long time ago. Lincoln County has its share of springs, the most famous of which is the spring used by the John Dooly family over in Elijah Clark State Park.

Times were the Dooleys and a lot of folks had no choice but to get their water from springs. Then wells came along and eventually city water. Now a bit of retro times arrives in the guise of spring water packaged in plastic. Up in Massachusetts Poland Springs (great name!) advertises, “Be Assured. Every drop of Poland Spring® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water comes from carefully selected spring sources and is captured at the source.” Not sure I trust this tricky copywriting but maybe so. (No legal requirement mandates labels must say where the water comes from.)

Well there’s good news. Springs still hold a prominent role in our culture, legend, and a hot topic these days, our health. People still turn to springs to heal various ailments. And of course the ultimate good health would be eternal youth. Remember the Fountain of Youth? Drink from or bathe in this legendary spring and you’d be forever young. Ponce de León came here searching for the Fountain of Youth. His travels in 1513 took him to what is now Florida. Did he find it? No, he’s dead.

Back a ways I knew a woman who would regularly make a 120- mile roundtrip to Blackville, South Carolina’s Healing Springs. Laden with plastic milk jugs she’d come home with the therapeutic spring water and swore by it. Blackville’s Healing Springs, known as God’s Acre Healing Springs, is quite famous and there’s more good news: no one owns it. Lute Boylston deeded the springs to God in 1944. The deed states that the owner of the land surrounding the springs is “God Almighty.” (I’d say He’s always been the owner wouldn’t you.) Gallons gush forth every minute. Healing waters are just 73 miles from Lincolnton. Get some jugs and hit the road.

Georgia has healing springs. Warm Springs came to prominence in the 19th century as a spa town, due to the fact its mineral springs constantly flow at a balmy 90 °Fahrenheit. Hoping to assuage his paralysis President Franklin D. Roosevelt went there to his Little White House for two decades. He died there in 1945 but he first came in the 1920s hoping the warm water would improve his paraplegia.

Sixty miles from Warm Springs is Lithia Springs and its lithia water spring. Lithia water is mineral water holding lithium salts, a rare thing indeed. So popular was Lithia Springs’ healing waters that people came from all over to benefit from its legendary healing properties. Austell sprang up thanks to the spring’s popularity. In 1887 one Judge Bowden bought the springs with investors and bottled and sold Bowden lithia spring water. That same year a 500-room luxury health resort hotel, the Sweet Water Hotel, opened in Lithia Springs. Sounds like the kind of place old Ponce de León would have loved. The Sweet Water Hotel and its lithia spring water attracted Mark Twain, Vanderbilt family members, and Presidents Cleveland, Taft, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Today all that’s left of lithia spring water is the name brand Lithia, bottled and sold in restaurants and health food stores.

Over this way, across the Savannah there’s a popular ginger ale, Blenheim, that’s has a mineral springs history as well. In 1781 Tory troops were hot on James Spears’ trail. When his shoe stuck in mud surrounding a spring in Blenheim, South Carolina, he kept running. When he later retrieved his shoe he sipped the spring water that had filled it and found the spring’s mineral content high. The spring’s fame spread among folks seeking health remedies, and soon affluent plantation owners built summertime houses close by the refreshing spring water.

The late 1800s brought a legitimate medicinal touch to the area. Dr. C. R. May advised folks suffering stomach problems to drink from Blenheim mineral springs. Mineral heavy, the water had a decided iron taste his patients didn’t like. To make the water more palatable, Dr. May added Jamaican Ginger to it. Recognizing a good thing, Dr. May and A. J. Matheson started the Blenheim Bottling Company in 1903 right next to the springs.

In 1993 the Schafer Family of South of the Border fame bought the Blenheim Bottling Company. Today Blenheim Ginger Ale keeps bubbling along satisfying its lovers with a cool artesian but fiery taste. Blenheim Ginger Ale Company, by the way, claims it’s “the earliest, smallest and many say finest, independent soda bottling company in the United States of America.”

Not all attempts to profit from therapeutic spring waters endure. Shivar Spring Company was a mineral water and flavored beverage company in Shelton, South Carolina, circa 1907 to 1957. Nathaniel Frank Shivar ran the wholesale department of Shivar Shoe Store here in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1905, while recuperating from an illness, he came across the spring destined to carry his name, the “healing springs of Broad River,” and the widow who owned it. Quicker than you can say “I do,” Shivar married into the healing spring business.

By 1907 he was promoting the production of both mineral water and ginger ale. Despite some success a string of bad luck arrived. In 1915 the brick plant burned. Shivar replaced it with a wooden? building. In 1922 Shivar died at a Columbia hospital. Ownership of the plant changed hands more than once over the years. Fire visited the plant again in 1957, and the company closed for good. All that’s left today are ruins.

No bottler that I know of claims its water holds healing properties. Plastic bottles of water simply hydrate us as technical-minded types say. What’s next? Air in a can? “Here take a snort from my can. You look like you need aerating.”

I seldom buy bottled water. I carry around a sports bottle filled with tap water. Imagine that. Now and then I’ buy Perrier Sparkling Water, real limestone/mineral naturally carbonated water from Vergèze, France. It’s effervescent and refreshing. Goes down crisp and cold. But the trend to sip tap water in plastic bottles is far less enjoyable. Why pay big dollars per gallon for bottled water purporting to come from a waterfall or spring when it comes from some city water department.

Every plastic bottle you buy consumes oil three times: when its made, when its shipped, and when you drive some place to get it. Don’t buy the stuff.

It’s too bad bubbling springs aren’t more plentiful. Be great to have one in the back yard. Why we could live like our great grandparents did, and I doubt it would kill us. Heck it might even make us look and feel a whole lot younger. Ponce de Leon sure thought so.

Visit my website at www.tompoland.net

Email me at tompol@earthlink.net

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