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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.

Comments

01:26 am - Thu, October 27 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Just happened to be out that way on the opening day of pheasant season. Interestingly, if I have it right, the Fountain Home is very near to Jack Sully's grave site. The Fountain Home and grave are southwest of Lucas a few miles. Follow the oil and then gravel road southeast of Lucas and you drive quite a scenic stretch that eventually crosses the creek valley.
07:42 am - Thu, October 27 2011
Lisa said:
Great story, Bernie. Are there any archival photos of the Fountain Home? South Dakota never ceases to amaze me with all her interesting characters.
07:43 am - Thu, October 27 2011
Lisa said:
Sorry, I meant, John, great story!
09:26 am - Thu, October 27 2011
Rebecca said:
I want to go there!
01:33 pm - Thu, October 27 2011
Laura said:
Sure wish Yankton had some magical healing waters other than the ones at the Icehouse.
02:44 pm - Thu, October 27 2011
John Andrews said:
Lisa, the only photos I've found so far are in old history books. Check "The Saga of Sully Flats," by Adeline Gnirk, or "Roundup Years: Old Muddy to the Black Hills," by Bert Hall.
07:20 am - Sat, November 5 2011
Joel said:
Historical signs now point the way to both the grave of Jack Sully and the site of the sanitarium. The road is about a mile West of Lucas.
07:15 am - Sat, November 12 2011
Julie R. Tvrdy (Livinsgton) said:
I just ordered your magaizine as a Christmas present for my dad, which I know he will truely enjoy! This article caught my eye, as Alvin Durfee was my great uncle and Thomas Durfee was my great Grandpa. I do have a few pictures of the Durfee family in front of the Buchanam's sanitarium. I have always enjoyed S.D. history! Juile R.Tvrdy (Livingston)
06:14 pm - Sat, July 14 2012
Barb Durfee said:
I always find this story interesting, and always heard it as I was growing up. Alvin was my dad's brother and Thomas and Maude Durfee were my grandparents.
11:54 am - Thu, April 4 2013
Jack said:
I have a number of pictures of the Buchanan Sanitarium and Lake Sully before the dam washed out and also current pictures of the Sanitarium's foundation which still stands as does the huge water cistern at the top of the hill and the cellar where the carbide batteries were stored. Also still visible is the combination bridge spillway of Lake Sully made of stone picked up from the immediate area. Jack Sully's grave is approximately 1/4 of a mile due east of the Sanitarium. As Joel said the Sanitarium and Sully's grave are signed.
I also have a number of articles on the Sanitarium.
Dr. Buchanan and Dr. Jeannie Murphy of Yankton had a close working relationship. Dr. Murphy was Dr. Buchanan's caregiver before he died in Yankton. She was also executor of Dr. Buchanan's estate.
06:17 pm - Sun, October 6 2013
Nylene Kelchner said:
Is there any way of knowing the names of the families that lived in the building after the sanitarium closed. I'm not sure but I think my dad's family and, or, grandparents lived there. My deceased aunt use to talk of living in a sanitarium when she was little. They were near Lucus SD at the time. The name is Ragan and grandparents name was Simpson. Thank you for any info into the past as my fathers memory is fading and fails him to the point of no help with his childhood (let alone mine). Tks NyK
11:32 am - Tue, January 27 2015
Doug Sikes said:
looking thru my great grandma,s pictures and found a picture of the Fountain house. Note on the picture said this is where I lived when I was little.
Also found a post card of the house by the lake, it had a note that that she spent time there in 1907.
Would like to come up and see fountains and Sully's grave
08:54 am - Fri, February 27 2015
Barb Durfee...My GrandFather, Charles Adolf Ross was Maude May Ross's brother, and we R in search of the ROSS FAMILY RE-UNION photo U may have from when they were in Mapleton, Iowa.

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