Borden-Wheeler Springs Resort
Borden-Wheeler Springs Resort
Borden Springs, Alabama

"Borden Springs, east of Piedmont, was part of Calhoun County until 1866. In the 1890's the Borden-Wheeler Company built a hotel at the springs, which were discovered by John Borden. The hotel had 125 rooms, 9 concert pianos, running hot and cold water, electricity, a large outdoor swimming pool, a dance pavilion, and a golf course. Numerous chefs prepared the guest meals. The hotel burned in 1935." Source:  "Images of America-The History of Calhoun County," pg 95

Molly Stowe sent the following information to me on 21 Jul 2002 thank you, Molly):

Borden Springs, high in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was one of the most romantic spots of Alabama. It lies in a valley between mountains that lie unbroken for fourteen miles on either side. Borden Springs is located on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, ninety-two miles from Birmingham and seventy-five miles from Atlanta, in Cleburne County near the Georgia state line. Shortly before 1900 the Borden-Wheeler Company, composed of twelve men from Atlanta, Newnan, and Carrollton, Georgia, bought the land from the Wheeler family and had assembled on a knoll above the spring a two-story hotel to replace a small twenty-room structure which had been used earlier.
The hotel had been formerly owned by the Fruithurst Company, a corporation which in 1894 secured large holdings of land in the east-central part of Cleburne County as the site for a colony of Swedish vinyardists who came from Minnesota for the purpose of raising grapes for the making of wine. The vineyard colony established the town of Fruithurst, which was incorporated in 1896. The hotel building, established originally as a clubhouse for prospective land buyers, was short-lived, for within a few years the company went defunct. The Borden-Wheeler Company purchased the clubhouse and employed J. C. Bass of Carrollton Georgia, to dismantle the structure, move it sixteen miles to Borden Springs, and reconstruct it as the Borden-Wheeler Hotel. The moving was accomplished with mules and wagons. The Borden-Wheeler Hotel, consisting of one hundred rooms, was a marvel of southern architecture, and immense for so small a place. It was a structure with wide porches, and its many windows caught the sunlight from all points. The hotel with its broad wings was surrounded by mountans covered with pine, maple, oak, elm, sweet and black gum trees, ash and the "grandsir gray-beard," with his long, snowy locks. Among the trees were great blocks of limestone, with their changing veins of color. There was soon a village of cottages around the hotel, built of rough lumber and much screening and creosoted in brown and greens to harmonize with the background of the trees. Every cottage had electric lights, running water, and maid service. So much was said about the magic properties of the spring that the management advertised the water as being "a close second to Ponce de Leon's famed 'Fountain of Youth'." Near the hotel stood a small cottage built of logs that were hewed and peeled by hand, with a puncheon floor. This was the home of Sarah Alexander Wheeler and C.M. Wheeler, who were among the pioneers of Borden Springs. Often the resort, better known as Borden Springs, was called Borden-Wheeler Springs. Borden Springs resort grew to such popularity that the Seaboard Railroad issued excursion rates to the resort. A one-way fare from Birmingham was listed at $2.77 (this would roughly be $58 today) and a season ticket at $4.60 ($96.40 today). The rates from Atlanta were slightly lower. The earliest settler on the Borden property, soon after Alabama was admitted to the Union, was John A. Borden. He entered his land at Huntsville and became the possessor of one thousand acres west of the spring, lying along wide, lazy Terrapin Creek, a rich lowland which was flooded each year. At a bend in the creek he built a large grist mill to grind his wheat and corn. Nearby, Mr. Borden built the well-known Borden dwelling. The open hall-way extended the length of the structure,with living rooms on each side. With wide fireplaces and many-paned windows, it sat snug and comfortable, facing south, with three sides protected by the mountains which towered above and around it. The Borden dwelling in later years proved to be an interesting feature of the resort because of its location. The long avenue of old cedars, so old that the trunks were divided, which led to the old homestead created as much curiousity and interest as did the house. After Mr. Borden, Arthur ALEXANDER bought 160 acres which included the spring and the land around it. Mr. Alexander's son, Matthew, purchased 400 acres surrounding the acreage owned by his father. Matthew Alexander married Annie Borden, daughter of John Borden(Anna Borden was born on 8 Sep 1821 in Benton, Alabama. She died in 1888. Anna and Matthew were married on 28 Oct 1838 in Benton, Alabama. This family line can be found at Terry Mason's web page.) Then came C.M. Wheeler, who bought the spring property, which was increasing in value because the spring was becoming well known for its "magic qualities." Mr. Wheeler married Sarah, the daughter of Arthur Alexander. So from these three- Borden, Alexander, and Wheeler- come most of the families living at Borden Springs.

At one time during the War Between the States, the guerrillas came to the Wheeler home to take the youngest of seven sons, a boy of seventeen, to join their ranks. Mrs. Wheeler had the boy go into the house and fasten it well, and then stood her stand on a wide stoop in front, with a broadax concealed beneath the folds of her capacious apron. When they rode up and demanded the boy, she said: "If my son were of age to be in the army, he would be there, but he is not of age and he is not going. "At a threatening move on the part of the men, the ax came out and was lifted high with both hands. "If any man puts his foot on this step, his head will come off, " she warned. Perhaps the men were moved with admiration of such courage, and some fear, too, for they quickly left. On many occasions fine hospitality prevailed in the community. It was not unusual for six to twelve travelers, waterbound by rising creeks which had no bridges, to be housed until they were able to ford the creeks. When that happened, the hospitable neighborhood turned out to a barn-dance in honor of the visitors. After the death of C.M. Wheeler, the spring property was sold to the Borden-Wheeler Company, which improved it. The modern hotel had windows everywhere, filling the building with light so that it was like a huge sun room. Broad galleries, rooms with high ceilings, and wide spaces seemed to beckon with an air of gaiety. From the knoll on which the hotel stood, the terraced lawns, green as emerald and smooth as velvet, dropped down past the wide dancing pavilion to the spring. There was a swimming pool, golf course, and blooded horses for the entertainment of guests. The hotel was furnished with every adornment that money could buy, which lent to the happiness and pleasure of the guests, but the resort was unable to attract patronage in numbers sufficient to support such lavishness. The rates were reasonable at $15.00 (roughly
$314 today) per week or $50.00 (roughly $1,040 today) per month, American plan. It became known as a week-end resort and rendezvous. Approximately forty employees were retained through each week, awaiting the large crowds on the week ends. Rates for the week ends were somewhat higher. Perhaps nowhere in Alabama were there better or more elaborate appointments and conveniences in a hotel. French cooks were hired to prepare fancy meals which were unequaled in the state. The orchestras which furnished music during the meals and for dancing were the best that could be obtained in Alabama or Georgia. The entertainment was superb but costly. Socially prominent people from all parts of Georgia and Alabama made up the clientele. The hotel was open from May to October, although June 1 through Labor Day was considered the season. The Borden-Wheeler Company operated the hotel only for a few seasons and then the stockholders sold their holdings to J. C. Bass, who had moved the building from Fruithurst. Mr. Bass operated the hotel until his health failed in 1920. His son, Bernard, then acquired the property and operated the hotel until 1927, when he sold his holdings to a Florida syndicate headed by Leon Prine of Fort Meade. Mr. Prine operated the hotel until 1933, when it closed and was never reopened. During the years of several ownerships, Charles W. Smith held a mortgage on the property, and he ultimatley acquired it by foreclosure. Fire swept the hotel and the twenty cottages in 1935, leaving nothing but ashes. The people of Borden Springs must have felt as Cinderella did as the clock struck twelve, when all her fine clothes vanished and she was left in rags and ashes, her lovely golden chariot only a pumpkin shell, her milk-white steeds only white mice. But, after all, she really was the girl with whom the prince had danced, and in the end she married the prince and was happy ever after. So it was with the Borden-Wheeler enterprise. All of the things that were there at the beginning were untouched; the spring, the trees, and the mountains which were provided by nature. Borden Wheeler Hotel had the appearance and appointments of an important spa, comparable to the finest in the South, but it was too far elaborate for its location. Source:  "Historic Alabama Hotels and
Resorts" by James F. Sulzby. To say that the Borden-Wheeler Resort has become my historical passion would be stating it mildly. My hope is that someone, somewhere, will find this page and have more information they can give me. I want to know everything about this hotel: what did it look like inside and outside, the guest rooms, the dining room(s), the kitchen(s), bathing facilities, what foods were served - a typical bill of fare - where the workers stayed, what they were paid, what their staff duties were, the architecture and color schemes inside and out, the costs to patrons staying there, amenities offered, color schemes used, did it burn once or twice? list goes on and on....

Darren D. Wheeler of Georgia was kind enough to send two scanned postcards of the hotel.  I also have one that my grandmother left me that I will eventually get scanned.  The photo at the top of this page is a scanned copy of an 8x10 photograph that belongs to Molly Stowe's family.

Postcard of the outdoor pavilion

Just what was life like at the turn of the century when this resort existed? The best description I have found is an essay written in 1995, titled "Our Times America at the Birth of the Twentieth Century" by Dan Rather. (emphasis is mine).

    The purpose of this narrative is to follow an average American through a quarter century of his country's history, to re-create the flow of the days as he saw them, to picture events in terms of their influence on him, his daily life and ultimate destiny. The aim is to appraise the actors of history and their activities according to the way they affected the average man, the way he felt about them, the ways in which he was influenced by his leaders, and in which he influenced them....
    ....the papers of New Year's Day, 1900, was more...reflective over the serious aspects of the news...partly because the sporting page and the comic strip had not yet arrived to overbalance the American newspaper....
    ....1899....was recognized by everybody as a turning point, a 100-mile stone....
    ....Among the more scintillating facets of the surface of life as reflected in the newspapers on January 1, 1900, the Indianapolis Journal recorded that "A. P. Hurst, a drygoods salesman from New York, interviewed at the Bates Hotel last night," assured the world that "The shirtwaist will be with us more than ever this summer. Women are wearing shirtwaists because they are comfortable, because they can be made to fit any form, and because they are mannish. Sleeves will be smaller, but still not tight. "The shirtwaist," the confident Mr. Hurst assured a world too supine in its submission to the dogma that change is a cosmic law, "the shirtwaist has come to stay."....
    ....Budweiser, a brand name that blazed ornately before Prohibition in the windows of 10,000 saloons and blurred the landscape with its billboards...was a national institution in much the same sense as baseball, ice cream, or the Ford automobile; which was the subject, during World War I, of a popular song:
Bud Budweiser's a friend of mine, friend of mine; yes, a friend of mine. What care I if the sun don,t shine while I've got Budweiser? That's the reason I feel so fine, feel so fine; yes, I feel so fine; For though Bill the Kaiser's a friend of Budweiser's, Budweiser's a friend of mine.
    Liquor in various aspects occupied a good deal of the attention of the newspapers of January 1,1900.... "rye, bourbon, and Canada malt whiskey, $2 (roughly $41.90 today) per gallon; strictly pure California wines, 75 cents (roughly $15.70 today) per gallon.".... As an antidote to organization and money on the side of the liquor sellers, there was just getting under way an organization on the other side, destined to be the nemesis of the saloon. The Washington, Pennsylvania, Reporter carried the announcement that "A meeting is called for Tuesday evening, January 2, 1900, at 7:30 at the First Presbyterian Church, to consider the question of the organization of an Anti-Saloon League."
    The Omaha World-Herald printed advertisements of
"sugar, 4c. lb (roughly 84 cents today).;
eggs, 14C. a dozen. (roughly $2.94 today)"
The Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Gazette and Bulletin,
"potatoes 35c. to 45c. a bushel (roughly $7.34 to $9.44 today),
butter 24c. to 25c. a pound. (roughly $5.03 to $5.24 today)"
The Dallas News,
"top hogs $4.15." (roughly $87.00 today)
Wheat was 70 cents a bushel (roughly $14.60 today)
corn, 33 cents a bushel (roughly $6.92 today)
Texas steers, $4.25 a hundred (roughly $89.10 today)
(*)The Boston Herald:

"Boarders Wanted;

turkey dinner, 20 cents (roughly $4.19 today)
supper or breakfast, 15 cents." (roughly $3.15 today)
In the Trenton Times, the United States Hotel quoted rates of
"$1 per day; furnished rooms (roughly $20.90 today)
50 cents--horse sheds for country shoppers." (roughly
$10.40 today)
In the Chicago Tribune, Siegel, Cooper & Co. advertised:
"Ladies' muslin nightgowns, 19C. (roughly $3.98 today)
50-inch all-wool sponged and shrunk French cheviots, water and
dust proof serges, all high-class fabrics, warranted for color and
wear, 79c." (roughly $16.50 today)
In the same paper The Fair offered
"women's shoes, worth $3, for sale at $1.97
(roughly worth $62.90 for sale at $41.30)
misses' and children's shoes, $1.19." (roughly $24.90 today)
In the Decatur, Illinois, Review was advertised:
"A good well-made corset in long or short style, all sizes;
our price, 50 cents." (roughly $10.40 today)
Gingham was 5 cents a yard (roughly $1.05 today)
men's box-calf  shoes $2.50 (roughly $52.40 today)
"Stein-Bloch suits that were $13 to $17, now $10"
(roughly were $272.00 to $356.00, on sale for $209.00 today)
men's suits that were $8 to $13, for $5.50.
(roughly were $167.00 to $272.00, for $115.00 today)
"Ten dollar overcoats for six dollars."
(roughly $209.00 for $125 today)
In the Los Angeles Express an advertisement said:
"Wanted, Jan. 8, lady cashier for store; salary $8 a week;
name 2 or 3 references." (roughly $167 a week today)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch received within twenty-four hours 725
answers to an advertisement that had read:
Night Watchman Wanted--Must be fairly well educated,
neat of appearance, able-bodied, and if necessary be
ready to furnish bond; none but those who can show
absolute proofs of their honesty and sobriety in all
senses of the word need apply; hours, 6 to 6, Monday to
Friday (off Saturday nights); 1 P.M. Sunday to 6 A.M.
Monday; salary $15 per week; state whether married or
single and inclose references. Address in own
handwriting, H 789, Post-Dispatch. (roughly $314 per
week today - no wonder it received 725 answers!)
    In the Chicago Tribune a patent-medicine advertisement proclaimed:

"General Joe Wheeler Praises Peruna." Similar testimonials were by three U.S. senators. One, from a senator from Mississippi,read: "For some time I have been a sufferer from catarrh in its most incipient stage. So much so that I became alarmed as to my general health. But hearing of Peruna as a good remedy, I gave it a fair trial, and soon began to improve. I take pleasure in recommending your great catarrh cure. Peruna is the best I have ever tried."....The West Chester, Pennsylvania, Local News reflected the preammonia, preelectric method of storing up coolness for the summer: "Horace Sinclair and William Tanguy are filling their ice-houses to-day with six-inch ice from the Brandywine."....The Tacoma News-Tribune described the preparations of many Tacomans to join the rush to the new Alaska goldfield, at Nome....In all the advertising pages of the Baltimore Sun the word "automobile" did not appear, but there were columns of advertisements for broughams, rockaways, Germantowns, opera wagonettes, phaetons, buggies, runabouts, and tally-hos. The Tulsa (then Indian Territory, now Oklahoma) Democrat, at the time a weekly, had no January 1 issue, but on January 7, 1900, it devoted itself to some self-congratulatory statistics. The population had reached 1,340; President Kurn of the Frisco Railroad was quoted as saying Tulsa had become the biggest point of traffic origin in the Territory; the carload business for the week was given as: "Receipts: 1 car bran; shipments: 2 cars hogs, 1 car sand, 1 car mules." In the world of matters less exclusively commercial, the Democrat chronicled the approaching nuptials of Mary, daughter of Chief Frank Corndropper, the ceremony to include a transfer of several hundred ponies to the bride's father by the bridegroom (who must be a full-blood).
    ....found no such word as "radio,"(*) for that was yet twenty years from coming; nor "movie," for that, too, was still mainly of the future; nor "chauffeur," for the automobile was only just emerging and had been called "horseless carriage," when treated seriously, but rather more frequently "devil-wagon," and the driver, the "engineer." There was no such word as "aviator"--all that that word implies was still a part of the Arabian Nights. Nor was there any mention of income tax or surtax, no annual warnings of the approach of March (later April) 15--all that was yet thirteen years from coming. In 1900, doctors had not heard of insulin; science had not heard of relativity or the quantum theory. Farmers had not heard of tractors, nor bankers of the Federal Reserve System. Merchants had not heard of chain stores nor "self-service"; nor seamen of oil-burning engines. Modernism had not been added to the common vocabulary of theology, nor futurist and "cubist" to that of art. Politicians had not heard of direct primaries, nor of the commission form of government, nor of city managers, nor of blocs in Congress, nor of a League of Nations, nor of a World Court. They had not heard of "muckrakers," nor of "Bull Moose" except in a zoological sense. Neither had they heard of "dry" and "wet" as categories important in vote-getting, nor of a Volstead Act; they had not heard of an Eighteenth Amendment, nor a Nineteenth, nor a Seventeenth, nor a Sixteenth--there were but fifteen amendments in 1900, and the last had been passed in 1869.
    In 1900, woman suffrage had only made a beginning, in four thinly peopled western states. A woman governor or a woman congressman was a humorous idea, far-fetched, to be sure, yet one out of which a particularly fertile humorist, on the stage or in the papers, could get much whimsical burlesque.
    The newspapers of 1900 contained no mention of smoking by women, nor of "bobbing," nor "permanent wave," nor vamp,nor flapper, nor jazz, nor feminism, nor birth control. There was no such word as "rum-runner"; nor "hijacker"; nor "bolshevism," fundamentalism," "behaviorism," "Nordic," "Freudian," "complexes," "ectoplasm," "brainstorm," "Rotary," "Kiwanis," "blue-sky law," "cafeteria," "automat," "sundae"; nor "mahjongg"; nor "crossword puzzle." Not even military men had heard of camouflage; neither that nor "propaganda" had come into the vocabulary of the average man. "Over the top," "zero hour," "no-man's land" meant nothing to him. "Drive" meant only an agreeable experience with a horse.
    The newspapers of 1900 had not yet come to the lavishness of photographic illustration that was to be theirs by the end of the quarter century. There were no rotogravure sections. If there had been, they would not have pictured Boy Scouts, nor state con-stabularies, nor traffic cops, nor Ku Klux Klan parades; nor women riding astride, nor the nudities of the Follies, nor one-piece bathing suits, nor advertisements of lipsticks, nor motion picture actresses, for there were no such things.
    In 1900, "short-haired woman" was a phrase of jibing; women doctors were looked on partly with ridicule, partly with suspicion. Of prohibition and votes for women, the most conspicuous function was to provide material for newspaper jokes. Men who bought and sold lots were still real-estate agents, not "realtors." Undertakers were undertakers, not having yet attained the frilled euphemism of "mortician." There were "star-routes" yet--rural free delivery had only just made a faint beginning; the parcel post was yet to wait thirteen years. For the deforestation of the male countenance, the razor of our grandfathers was the exclusive means; men still knew the art of honing. The hairpin, as well as the horseshoe and the buggy, were the bases of established and, so far as anyone could foresee, permanent businesses. Ox teams could still be seen on country roads; horse-drawn streetcars in the cities. Horses or mules for trucks were practically universal; livery stables were everywhere. The blacksmith beneath the spreading chestnut tree was a reality; neither the garage mechanic nor the chestnut blight had come to retire that scene to poetry. The hitching post had not been supplanted by the parking problem. Croquet had not given way to golf. "Boys in blue" had not yet passed into song.  Army blue was not merely a sentimental memory, had not succumbed to the invasion of utilitarianism in olive green. G.A.R. were still potent letters.
    In 1900, the Grand Army of the Republic was still a numerous body, high in the nation's sentiment, deferred to in politics, their annual national reunions and parades stirring events, and their local posts(*)important in their communities. Among the older generation the memories and issues of the Civil War still had power to excite feeling, although the Spanish War, with its outpouring of a common national emotion against a foreign foe, had come close to completing the burial of the rancors of the War Between the States. Such terms as "Rebel," "Yank," and "damn Yankee," "Secesh" were still occasionally used, sometimes with a touch of ancient malice. A few politicians, chiefly older ones, still found or thought they found potency in "waving the bloody shirt." Negro suffrage was still a living and, in some quarters, acrimonious issue.
    The passing of the questions arising out of the Civil War, and the figures associated with it, as major incidents of politics and life, was one of the most marked of the many respects in which 1900 was a dividing year.
    In 1900, America presented to the eye the picture of a country that was still mostly frontier of one sort of another, the torn edges of civilizations, first contact with nature, man in his invasion of the primeval. There were some areas that retained the beauty of nature untouched: the Rocky Mountains, parts of the western plains where the railroads had not yet reached, and some bits of New England. There were other spots, comparatively few, chiefly the farming regions of eastern Pennsylvania, New York State, and New England, where beauty had come with the work of man--old farms with solid well-kept barns, many of heavy stone or brick; substantial houses with lawns shaded by evergreen trees that had been growing for more than a generation, fields kept clean to the fence corners--areas that to the eye and spirit gave satisfying suggestions of a settled order, traditions, crystallized ways of life, comfort, serenity, hereditary attachment to the local soil.
    Only the eastern seaboard had the appearance of civilization having really established itself and attained permanence. From the Alleghanies to the Pacific Coast, the picture was mainly of a country still frontier and of a people still in flux: the Alleghany mountainsides scarred by the ax, cluttered with the rubbish of improvident lumbering, blackened with fire; mountain valleys disfigured with ugly coal-breakers, furnaces, and smokestacks; western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio an eruption of ungainly wooden oil derricks; rivers muddied by the erosion from lands cleared of trees but not yet brought to grass, soiled with the sewage of raw new towns and factories; prairies furrowed with the first breaking of sod. Nineteen hundred was in the flood tide of railroad-building: long fingers of fresh dirt pushing up and down the prairies, steam shovels digging into virgin land, rock-blasting on the mountainsides. On the prairie farms, sod houses were not unusual. Frequently there were no barns, or, if any, mere sheds. Straw was not even stacked but rotted in sodden piles. Villages were just past the early picturesqueness of two long lines of saloons and stores, but not yet arrived at the orderliness of established communities; houses were almost wholly frame, usually of one story, with a false top, and generally of a flimsy construction which suggested transiency; larger towns with a marble Carnegie Library at Second Street, and Indian tepees at Tenth. Even as to most of the cities, including the eastern ones, their outer edges were a kind of frontier, unfinished streets pushing out to the fields; sidewalks, where there were any, either of brick that loosened with the first thaw or wood that rotted quickly; rapid growth leading to rapid change. At the gates of the country, great masses of human raw materials were being dumped from immigrant ships. Slovenly immigrant trains tracked westward. Bands of unattached men, floating labor, moved about from the logging camps of the winter woods to harvest in the fields or to railroad-construction camps. Restless "sooners" wandered hungrily about to grab the last opportunities for free land....

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