This week we take a look at a lesser-known business: Barnum’s Bathing Rooms on Anthoine Street. Let me start by trying to paint a picture of the area in the mid-1800s. Most lots of land were fairly large since they hadn’t been subdivided for residential housing yet. If you think of how Scamman Street and Anthoine Street both run parallel and climb up a hill, the name of that hill is Buzzell’s Hill, named for Dr. John Buzzell. Dr. Buzzell’s house was located on Highland Avenue (known then as Barren Hill Road), near the head of Scamman Street, with the Buzzell farm extending down the hill.

An 1867 advertisement for Barnum’s Bathing Rooms that appeared in the Portland Daily Press. South Portland Historical Society image

You also had Daniel P. Anthoine’s home at the top of Anthoine Street with his land extending down the hill on the west side. Another large piece of land extending down the east side of Anthoine Street had been bought up by the master shipbuilder, Thomas E. Knight. In 1860, Knight sold off a large parcel, with about 1,500 feet fronting Anthoine Street, to F.O.J. Smith.

An interesting character in Maine history, F.O.J. Smith could fill a whole other chapter, but his relation to South Portland/Cape Elizabeth seems more as a land speculator in this case. He didn’t appear to have any desire to develop the lot himself, rather was waiting for the right opportunity to sell at a profit.

In January of 1866, a hotelier and restauranteur, Isaac Barnum, purchased a roughly 4-acre piece of land near the bottom of Anthoine Street from F.O.J. Smith. The land had a mineral spring that ran from the west side of Scamman Street, down and across to Anthoine Street and the creek. He obtained a “medical analysis” of the water in January of 1866 and, with this analysis in hand, Barnum began a blitz of advertisements in the Portland Daily Press in March of 1866, which read as follows:

“Cape Elizabeth Mineral Spring – Isaac Barnum, the proprietor of Grand Trunk Dining Rooms, with much pleasure would announce to his friends and the public, that, having become fully convinced that the Mineral Water, issuing in such abundance from the premises of Dr. J.D. Buzzell, of Cape Elizabeth, possesses extraordinary efficacy and power, not only for the preservation of health, but in the removal of disease, he has purchased of said Buzzell, a fine lot of land, including the Mineral Spring, and is about to erect upon the same, large and commodious buildings for the accommodation of invalids, and all others who may desire the benefits of drinking and bathing in this medicinal water.

The 1871 FW Beers & Co. atlas identifies the FOJ Smith Mineral Springs on Anthoine Street. This is roughly in the area where the nursing home currently sits. South Portland Historical Society image

“The chemical analysis of this water, by one of the most scientific, accurate and popular chemists in New England, A.A. Hayes, M.D., State Assayer, Boston, Mass., and who does not hesitate to say that it contains several of the most valuable medicinal elements which render it extremely valuable in the removal of a great variety of diseases; as well as the practical demonstration of its wonderful efficacy in cures of cases already too numerous to mention, must dispel every doubt, that this water is equal, if not superior, to any yet discovered in the United States, with the advantage of being entirely free from all noxious taste or smell.

“The Public should also be apprised of the superior location of this Spring, it being only about one-half mile from the bridge leading from the Portland and Boston Depot, in pleasant prospect of the city of Portland, and where patients and visitors can enjoy the advantages, not only of sea air, but of bathing in sea or mineral water under the same roof.

“As this mineral water contains elements of self-preservation, passing through several strata of Manganese, it can be kept any length of time as pure and fresh as when first taken from the Spring, not undergoing the slightest chemical change in taste or quality, it must at once appear to all Mariners as the most valuable water to take on board their vessels, especially in long voyages. And it can be obtained by the barrel or quantity for this purpose, as the Spring flows at least one thousand barrels per day.

“Bathing Rooms will be in readiness upon the premises early this season; and while other buildings are in progress of erection, comfortable accommodations for boarding can be obtained near by the Spring.”

A few weeks after these advertisements appeared, Barnum proceeded to purchase more land, this time from John Buzzell. The April purchase appears to include the land and flats across the street, along with the flats on the waterfront to the north, where Barnum had plans to build a wharf (undoubtedly so that ships could pull up in close vicinity to the mineral springs to load barrels of water).

While it doesn’t appear that anything ever happened with his plans to build a wharf, Barnum did proceed quickly with construction of his bathing room facility. He opened it to the public on July 21, 1866.

We found perhaps the best description of this bathing facility in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Aug. 7, 1866, edition of the Portland Daily Press:

“Barnum’s Baths – While your correspondents are describing distant watering places, let us not overlook the attractions presented by that of Mr. Barnum at Cape Elizabeth. Mr. B. has erected a beautiful Bath House within an easy walk of our goodly city. A few days since we visited the spot and were delighted with the perfection of his arrangements for baths; hot or cold, fresh or salt. The rooms are large and airy and fitted up with every convenience for the comfort of visitors. Notwithstanding he lost nearly all the elegant furniture intended for the establishment by the recent fire; with his usual energy, he at once ordered from New York and Boston, a duplicate of all that was destroyed. From the baths we rambled to the beautiful grove on the premises, where seats and swings are provided for the comfort of visitors, and from which there is a pleasant view of the surrounding country and the upper portion of our harbor. We noticed on the grounds an excavation to be filled with salt water for the purpose, Mr. B. informed us, of teaching the art of swimming; something which has never before been attempted in our vicinity; the enjoyment of which every good swimmer can appreciate – an art which is so conducive to bodily health. We gladly call the attention of the public to the mineral spring; we drank a glass of the water and found it not only very cold but very pleasant to the taste; the predominant qualities are alkaline and are very palatable, hardly differing in taste from pure spring water. We were very much gratified with our visit to the Baths and with our interview with Mr. Barnum, whom we know to be just the man to conduct such an establishment. While but few can visit the distant watering places, here is one which is accessible to all. It is a delightful spot and we hope Mr. B. will receive the patronage he so well deserves for getting up this establishment for the health and pleasure of the public.”

In 1867, Barnum established a horse-drawn omnibus that made regular runs between downtown Portland and his bath rooms in Cape Elizabeth.

It is not clear what became of the bathing rooms. Advertisements in 1866 and 1867 indicate that Barnum was actively conducting the business at that time. In 1868, ads seem to disappear and when they start up again in June of 1869 and running through early 1870, although the business was still called “Barnum’s Bathing Rooms,” Barnum was no longer listed as the proprietor.

It seems likely that he sold or otherwise disposed of the business in 1868 or 1869. In early 1869, Barnum had undertaken a new project – renovating the Chadwick Mansion on Congress Street, next to the First Parish Church, to become a boarding house. In May, 1869, someone employed in changing the gas fixtures accidentally left a pipe open; Barnum was badly burned in the resulting explosion and was confined to his home for four months of recovery. In a court case, it was reported that he had permanently lost the use of his hands.

We’ll pick up on the story of the Cape Elizabeth Mineral Springs next week, as it became the site of the new almshouse in 1895 when the old town of Cape Elizabeth changed its name to the town of South Portland.

If anyone has information, photographs or artifacts to share related to the mineral springs, the bathing house, the poor farm/almshouse, the City Home, or early nursing homes on Anthoine Street, we encourage you to reach out to us as we continue this research. Do you live in the neighborhood and have heard stories passed down about it? You can reach South Portland Historical Society by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, by email at [email protected], or through our Facebook page. The society maintains an online museum with over 10,000 historic images available for viewing, which can be found at www.sphistory.pastperfectonline.com.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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