When one looks at the maps of Old Sulphur Springs, it will be noted that north of the town, across Sulphur Creek, is an area called Central Park. A wooden footbridge connected the town with the park.
The area was flat and beautiful, nestled among large oaks, elms and sycamore trees. It was located at the confluence of Sulphur and Rock Creek. This was the perfect place for the family reunion, picnic or just a leisurely stroll on a summer's eve.
When the Sulphur Springs Reservation was segregated in 1902, Central Park was part of the land acquired. As the new town of Sulphur tried to find a place to settle down, some people moved south, some west and some north.
This made it necessary for a road to be built through the reserve from the South Side to the North Side. This new road, called the Buckhorn Road, cut Central Park in two pieces. These two parks became known as East Central Park and West Central Park.
East Central Park later became known as Central Camp Ground. West Central Park became known as Flower Park.
Flower Park was literally on the doorstep of Sulphur. It was very popular with local citizens as well as visitors. This created some problems in the early days with its proximity to Sulphur.
One park Superintendent noted "Notwithstanding the fact that Flower Park has sometimes been regarded as a sort of spacious front yard to Sulphur, the area is none the less a part of a National Park. . ." In the early years of the Park, this is where the problems arose.
The fact that the railroad depot was just a block away and the Vendome was only eight feet from the Park boundary made Flower Park the most frequently visited area. The visitors would enter near the Vendome and walk to the Pavilion Springs only a few hundred yards to the south.
The popularity of the area caused the need for extra Ranger patrols at night. The first area of the Park to have electric lights was Flower Park. In 1906 lights were strung from the Vendome to the Pavilion Springs. A second string of lights were run from West 1st Street to the footbridge across Sulphur Creek.
When the Vendome was built about 1906, a water line was run from a large artesian well several blocks east to create an artificial artesian well with the overflow allowed to drain directly into Rock Creek.
Later, in 1906, when Willis Townsley bought and moved the Park Hotel to the hill north of the Vendome, he asked the Park Superintendent for permission to use an old spring for domestic water. The spring was neglected and barely produced any flow. Efforts by Townsley proved fruitless to secure enough water for his hotel guest. He drilled an artesian well in front of his hotel to supply his needs.
It is not known exactly who did the work but a pavilion was built over the spring in Flower Park. The water discharged from the artificial well at the Vendome was piped to the old spring and was then allowed to flow into Rock Creek through a natural depression.
Not much construction was done in the Flower Park area other than a few benches and two trails. There was no modern comfort station or other amenities.
In 1909, the Lincoln Bridge was built across Travertine Creek. This permanent stone arch bridge replaced the wooden footbridge and provided a safe path from the Vendome to the Pavilion Springs.
In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp in Platt National Park. This camp was a godsend to the sadly neglected little Park. For the first time since the origin of the Park there were now men and money to perform badly needed work.
One of the first projects undertaken by the CCC was the improvement of Flower Park. In April of 1934, the main entrance of the Park on Highway 18 (now U.S. 177) had a beautiful curved rock entry built. In the center of each rock wall was a bubbling fountain where water ran down the wall into a catch basin. The water came from nearby sulphur well.
A new comfort station was built in 1934 using the new theme of the National Park Service. It was determined by the NPS that in order to have some continuity from park to park, all buildings would have a "rustic style" boulder and beam appearance.
New trails were built and old concrete walks removed. A beautiful stone arch bridge was built on one of the trails near the comfort station.
This building measured thirty-two by twenty-two feet and had a hip roof with shake shingles. The yellow-tan limestone was quarried at nearby Dougherty.
In 1935, the large parking lot next to the Vendome was built. Constructed to service both Flower Park and the Vendome, the lot measured 160 feet by 248 feet and held 130 cars. The lot had three islands planted with grass and trees. Another interesting feature was that the parking lot had a creek flowing under it.
The discharge from the mammoth Vendome well was directed east to the park and a new creek was carved through the area. The redesigned stream was allowed to meander toward Travertine Creek. There were two large pools constructed in the area, one near the parking lot and another near Travertine Creek. A stepping-stone crossing was built across the stream near the comfort station.
Where the stream entered Travertine Creek, the CCC built an artificial falls. As the banks of the creek were about ten feet deep, severe erosion would have resulted if water was allowed to simply run into Travertine Creek. The artificial falls was a beautiful terminus to the stream.
This writer has wondered since childhood what the name of the little falls might have been. We asked everyone we thought might know, but, no answer. The stream coming from the Vendome is known as Vendome Stream. We recently came across an old picture post card of the falls and written across it was "Vendome Falls". Well, that's as good as any name and appropriate it seems.
And last, we could not conclude this article without mentioning that the lower pool was famous for its Black Sulphur Mud. As a youngster, we can remember the visitors who came here to rub mud all over their body. The visitors came to the Park and rubbed mud on their aching torsos and the locals came to the Park to watch the visitors go through this bizarre ritual.
We can clearly remember this mud. It was abundant in the lower wading pool. The texture was very fine grained, coal-black in color and the stickiest stuff you ever saw. Visitors would scrape the mud from the banks or under the water. They then rubbed the black sticky mud from head to toe.
They would then lie on the banks of the pool, in the sun, until the mud completely dried. There is no proof that any of this ever healed anything but it sure was a popular activity. One could see dozens of people lying on the bank of the pool like a pod of beached whales.
One can only assume that the true benefit of the treatment came from the fact that the mud was black. As it took about an hour for the mud to completely dry, the person would lay in the sunlight with this black mud absorbing the heat from the sunlight. Most likely this heat on the joints is what really relieved the pain of arthritis.
But, the real fun for the observer was watching the people trying to wash off this dried mud. It adhered so tightly it almost became a second skin. Often, getting all the mud off took longer than the entirety of the previous process.
We just don't know about the medicinal properties of the water but here are two recent stories of the waters healing qualities. We have a Labrador retriever who gets "hot spots" in summer. A small mite found in every backyard causes this. The hot spots cause intense itching. After the traditional treatment with the "store bought" remedies with limited results, we took the dog to Flower Park and threw a stick in the sulphur water for the dog to fetch. After throwing the stick for about thirty minutes we went home. We continued this every evening for three days. After that time the hot spots were gone and never returned.
On one of these evenings, we met an elderly lady with a small child who was wearing bathing trunks. I noticed that there were red spots all over the child's body. I asked the lady if the little boy had measles. She said the spots were fleabites. She then told me that the doctor had prescribed that she take the little boy swimming in Flower Park every evening for a week.
It appears that at least one doctor is still prescribing the healing waters of the old Platt National Park.
© 2006 Dennis Muncrief