Subscriptions to South Dakota Magazine make great gifts!
Subscribe today — 1 year (6 issues) is just $25!
Gregory County's Healing Waters
Oct 26, 2011
|Healing waters? Bernie Hunhoff took this photo near the site of the Fountain Home in Gregory County.|
Do the waters of Lake Sully and Whetstone Creek in Gregory County hold magical, healing powers? Doctors 100 years ago believed they did, and it led to a renowned sanitarium being built in the Missouri River valley hills.
Dr. James Buchanan, who came to Yankton from Chicago, filed a land claim when Gregory County was opened for settlement in 1904. He was attracted to South Dakota after talking with none other than local rogue Jack Sully (I almost wrote “outlaw,” but after talking with local historians in recent weeks, I’ve discovered there’s quite a bit of doubt about that characterization). Sully and Buchanan crossed paths when Sully was a stagecoach driver between Yankton and Wyoming.
Buchanan discovered his claim contained warm water springs, which he believed contained minerals that enhanced healing various ailments. He began construction on the Buchanan Sanitarium, also known as the Fountain Home, just southwest of the town of Lucas, within sight of Sully’s ranch in Sully Flats.
The Fountain Home became a destination for wealthy East Coast businessmen seeking to escape their high-pressure jobs and regain their health. Dr. Buchanan encouraged swimming in nearby Lake Sully, and pumped in water from other springs he discovered.
Buchanan’s sanitarium only operated for about 10 years. After its closure, families lived in different floors of the five-story house. The grand home’s design led to an anxious day for the Thomas Durfee family. They were living in part of the home when they discovered their son Alvin was missing. Search parties came from as far away as Winner. They searched into the night without success. Then, one of the rescuers leaned against a panel, which gave way and exposed a secret compartment where the boy lay sleeping. The Fountain Home contained 14 secret rooms that doubled as closets.
The sanitarium was finally razed in the 1930s. Its foundations are still visible, and local historian Jack Broome, retired superintendent of schools in Burke, happily chauffeurs visitors across the prairie to show them. “One time I took three sisters out there," Broome says. "One was from Chicago and I’ll be darned if she didn’t fall in the creek. I thought she’d be mad, but she got up and said, ‘Oh, I feel so good now.’”
If you go, dip an achy ankle or sore knee into the creek. You might be surprised at the results.