Doctor’s orders: Take two baths and call me in the morning
July 07 , 2013
F. Wilson Hurd and his Wesley Water Cure
Drawing of the Water Gap Sanitarium that appeared in the Alfred Mathews book, History of Wayne Pike and Monroe Counties, PA. (1886).
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
During the mid to late 19th century, many people sought alternative remedies of every kind to help cure their ailments. One of the treatments that was in vogue at the time and was purported to cure an array of illnesses and afflictions involved the healing powers of water.
From curing cancer to relieving headaches, water was believed to cleanse the body, washing away any number of impurities. Many doctors who studied the “water cure” approach to healing established their own facilities to treat patients. At these clinics, patients would adhere to a strict diet and to a routine that included hydrotherapeutic treatments and massage therapy.
One such water cure facility was located in Monroe County and was run by Dr. F. Wilson Hurd. The good doctor believed that his water treatment practices were “all sufficient and superior to any medicines in dissolving the impurities and morbid humors of the body. Medicines do not cure; they simply divert the actions of the disease.”
F. Wilson Hurd was born on March 23, 1830, in Trumbull, Conn., to Eliot and Fanny Hurd. When F. Wilson was 3 years old, his family moved to South Bend, Ind. Soon after the family relocated to the mid-west, both of F. Wilson’s parents died, and he, along with his three siblings, returned to Connecticut, where they were raised by their grandfather, Frederick Hurd.
At the age of 16, F. Wilson traveled to Newark, N.J., and worked as an apprentice for a milliner. Hurd felt the factory environment with its close working quarters aggravated his health and contributed to his severe headaches and stomach and liver troubles. He soon left the hat factory and returned to Connecticut where he found employment making surgical equipment.
Always having been a sickly child, F. Wilson did not stay long in the medical manufacturing field either. He decided to seek a job at sea, where he felt the fresh air, salt water, hard work, and plain, simple food would have a positive effect on his overall health. For the next nine years, Hurd worked aboard many vessels, serving as a first and second mate, foremast hand, and a cook.
By 1857, Hurd returned to land, but he continued to feel poorly. Seeking a new solution to his ailments, he visited the Glen Haven Water Cure facility owned by Dr. James Jackson at Lake Skaneateles, N.Y. Hurd’s overall health improved after staying at Glen Haven, and he became extremely interested in the idea of curing illness using water.
Hurd was so intrigued with the water-cure method that Dr. Jackson encouraged the young man to further his education and obtain a medical degree. Hurd enrolled in a two-year program at the Hygienic Therapeutic College and then went on to one year of post-graduate work at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.
After earning his degree, Hurd returned to the Finger Lakes region of New York to work alongside Dr. Jackson and the Glen Haven Water Cure. Hurd and Jackson formed a partnership and founded the Dansville Water Cure in Livingston County, N.Y. Hurd eventually sold his portion of the partnership so that he could establish his own facility.
Hurd searched up-and-down the east coast for a perfect location to start his own business. He finally found an ideal place in Monroe County. He bought a 200-acre farm from Theodore and Sarah Taylor.
(The land that Dr. Hurt purchased is now the location of the Days Inn-Blue Tequila restaurant, at the intersection of Route 447 and Route 209 in East Stroudsburg, off Interstate 80 Exit 309.)
Hurd liked the Taylor property for a number of reasons. The plot of land was located in the countryside but was close enough to the train station that guests could easily arrive for their treatments. However, the facility was far enough away from town so that guests wouldn’t be tempted to walk to a local eatery to engage in their “diatetic indulgences.”
The property also was accessible from both New York City and Philadelphia, and it boasted a natural spring — necessary for the water treatment processes. The building was able to be situated so that it offered a clear, south-facing view because Hurd believed in “the great power there is in the direct and indirect rays of the sun in overcoming unhealthy conditions.”
As guests arrived at the water sanitarium, they were welcomed by both Dr. Hurd and his wife, Hannah. The facility could accommodate 50 people and offered a well-ventilated air system. Patients were put on a strict diet and were served three meals a day with no in-between snacking.
Hannah worked alongside her husband to provide “wholesome dishes prepared with scrupulous care.” Meals consisted of small amounts of meat and vegetables with “moderate salt with no high seasonings” accompanied only by unleavened bread. Diets were regulated and were devoid of lard, grease, sugar, coffee, and tea. Butter was used sparingly. According to a 1903 advertisement, the cost to stay ranged in price from $7.50 to $17 per person per week, depending on the room size and the guest’s health needs.
While the water sanitarium was always owned and run by Dr. Hurd, the facility went through a variety of names over the years. From 1873 to 1878, the sanitarium was known as Wesley Water Cure. From 1878 to 1892, it went by the name of F. Wilson Hurd’s Highland Hygiene Home and from 1893 to 1911, the business was known as the Water Gap Sanitarium.
On April 25, 1911, embers from a fire at a neighboring barn blew onto the sanitarium, catching the structure on fire. The facility burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.
Dr. F. Wilson Hurd died three years later on Wednesday, February 25, 1914, at his home from “the infirmities of age.” He was 83 years old. According to his obituary, Hurd lived a long life because he took care of his body.The death notice even noted that toward the end of his life, he “insisted that he should be carried to his car and taken for a ride in the open air.” Hurd’s body was transported to Indiana to be interred next to his parents in the Mishawaka City Cemetery.
While there is no doubt that F. Wilson Hurd and his water cure offered relief to his patients, it is likely that he was not able to cure many illnesses. Many guests sought relief and sanitary conditions away from crowded cities, and they did find both at his establishment. His guests received personalized care, took several baths a day, breathed fresh mountain air, ate a healthy and balanced diet, and exercised on a regular basis. There is no doubt that most patients did indeed feel better after visiting Hurd’s facility.