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Potton Springs Revisited

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medium_pottonsprings.jpgThe people of Potton certainly remember Potton Springs, named after the three little sulphur springs that made the place famous for over a hundred years. According to legend, Nathan Banfill, age 14, discovered the springs while out working in a field at the base of Pevee Mountain. While looking for a drink of water at the bottom of a cliff, he came upon a trickle of water with a very peculiar smell: sulphur!

News of the discovery spread quickly, and people came from all over to take advantage of the miraculous water that supposedly cured everything from liver ailments to stomach inflammations to rheumatism. People drank it, bathed in it, and brought it home. The McMannis Hotel, situated at the corner of Mountain Road and Route 243, did a very good business with the "spring lodgers" who traveled to Potton Springs on horse drawn wagons.

On July 4th, 1862, businessmen from the Eastern Townships met there to celebrate the Potton Sulphur Spring. Free Masons visiting the site engraved their trademark and other symbols on the rock. C. F. Haskell from Stanstead later named the place Mount Pleasant Spring, but that name was soon forgotten.

In 1875, the construction of the Potton Springs Hotel by N. H. Green made the place really famous. Two years later, the new hotel took advantage of the extension of the railway line of the Missisquoi and Black Rivers Valley Company linking Eastman to Potton Springs. In 1912, the hotel was purchased by J. A. Wright. Wright enlarged it and supplied it with electricity from a generator. The inn could host seventy-five people at the rate of two dollars a day!

The sulphur waters were tapped from the mountain springs into a wooden tank and delivered by gravity to the hotel below. The springs attained an exceptional reputation and attracted vacationers from the United States, France, England, Western Canada and, of course, the Eastern Townships. It was the beginning of the modern spas in the Eastern Townships.

In 1888, the Orford Mountain Railway, later purchased by Canadian Pacific, took over the railway and built a shelter for the comfort of travelers staying at the Potton Springs Hotel. There were other buildings, including a stable for horses and buggies, and, in the 1920s, a large garage for the first automobiles. We have no photographs of indoor life at the inn but we believe there was a large heated indoor pool supplied by the springs, as suggested by the presence, under the oldest part of the hotel, of a deep excavated area with a standpipe in the middle. A short cement staircase may have led to a pool area heated by a furnace supplied by a tall chimney. Only a base made of Lennoxville bricks is left today. Outside, on the vast lawn, stood a high totem pole decorated with Native motifs, as seen on a post card of the time. The hotel even had its own post office for a time.

There was a recreation hall about 100 metres from the hotel. On the outside, a Mickey Mouse was painted above the entrance door. In the back of the hall was a wicket to collect entrance tickets and a projection booth. Richly decorated with wood trim, the hall was used for indoor games, evening dances, movies and stage entertainment. The employees' rooms occupied the ground floor. This building burned down around 1995.

At the height of its popularity, business was booming, but the hotel started to decline at the end of the 1920s, probably when the economic crisis hit. J. A. Wright sold the place to F. Larin in 1930, but a fire, presumeably arson, gutted the hotel in 1934.

The place used to close at the end of each summer and, for the winter, a large outdoor sign, that read "POTTON SPRINGS HOTEL" was removed and stored in the henhouse. The sign was thus saved from the fire but, ironically, it was stolen in the late 1990's after the new owners recovered it from under the collapsed henhouse.

What's left of Potton Springs today? A horse barn, some silent foundations, chimney bricks from Lennoxville, old sidewalks between buildings and, of course, the springs with the steps leading to them. There is also the grade from the old railway and the passenger platform. There isn't much, in fact, but the site still exudes a palpable feeling of the Gay 90s, of elegant summer vacations, and of the relief from all ailments!

Because of the fire, very few artifacts from the hotel remain except for a few photographs. However, a discovery made on the shores of the Missisquoi River may be linked to Potton Springs Hotel. In 1998, Johanne Lavallée and her three children, whose property is located not far from Potton Springs and reaches the river bank, noticed metal plates on the river bank one morning. The earth had been eroded, revealing this little treasure.

Ten pieces were recovered as well as a small metal milk jug, all made of silver-plated copper. The plates were obviously service trays for tea, bread, cakes or cookies. They have no manufacturing identification but, according to the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City, they date to the end of the 19th century and would have been manufactured in England, using an electrolytic plating process. Where could these things, buried on the banks of the river, have come from? Examination revealed that they had been damaged by fire. Although we have no proof, we can safely assume that they were recovered from the rubble of the Potton Springs Hotel and buried in a field near the river, perhaps by youngsters who believed they had discovered a treasure!

Note: The Potton Springs site is private property and not open to visitors.