Natural Spring Flowing Again at Hot Wells

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A five-week drilling effort reached a spring of geothermally heated groundwater at Hot Wells.

There is a hot well at Hot Wells once again.

The site in Southeast San Antonio where sulfur springs were first discovered in 1892, giving rise to a glamorous hotel and bathhouse, came full circle when a five-week drilling effort reached a spring of geothermally heated groundwater.

Water could be seen bubbling up beneath a drilling rig on Thursday, caked mud all around and the foul odor of sulfur hanging in the air. It was a welcome sight for the developer and visitors to the area.

“I think Hot Wells without flowing thermal water is like an art book without pictures,” said James Lifshutz, a local developer who owns the property and ordered the well dug. “That’s what it had been for 100 years so we’re bringing it back.”

In 2015, the county acquired four acres of the former resort for Hot Wells Park, which opened to the public in April. Visitors can view the bathhouse ruins, learn its history, and access the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. But the original hot springs that fed the bathhouse pools during the resort’s heyday were capped as a condition of the county’s acquisition of the property.

Lifshutz now has big plans for the remaining Hot Wells property, six acres to the north and eight acres to the south, and the springs figure into those plans. “These healing waters are what Hot Wells is about,” he said. “I cannot even conceive of the project without it.”

The first step in bringing his vision to life for a new Hot Wells, he said, was to see the park opened. Drilling for a well came next. He declined to share the cost of the drilling, but confirmed he’s been working on it with agencies such as the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the San Antonio River Authority, and the San Antonio Water System.

Now that the well is dug, Lifshutz intends to spend the rest of this year on designs and permits for a development that will include a traditional San Antonio ice house along with soaking pools fed by the spring’s therapeutic waters. There will be a “hospitality” component as well, which could be cabins or a hotel for overnight guests.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Water flows from the opening in the ground.

“The ice house will be accessible from the hike and bike trail as well as the park and it will be designed to take advantage of the natural setting and the river and the availability of the thermal waters,” he said. “So the idea is that somebody coming to the park or off the river will want to relax and have a cold beer and soak their feet in the healing waters.”

That concept will be developed in the north section of Hot Wells where the new well has been dug, and near a wooded refuge where local artist and caretaker Justin Parr has operated a studio since 2012 and will remain.

Lifshutz said he hopes to break ground on the project in the first quarter of 2020 and see it completed later in the year. For now, he has no definite plans for the south side of the property. That area is said to be the site of deserted tourist cottages mostly consumed by vegetation.

Lifshutz said he had been stopping by the drilling site every morning during the last few weeks to check on progress, and got the phone call this week that the drill had reached the depth of the springs, 1,800 feet below the surface.

John Scheel, who lives nearby, said he has been watching the drilling progress. “I have been kayaking down there for a year and I was happy to stumble upon it,” Scheel said, adding that a geologist on site told him the water coming from the well was 99 degrees and flowing well.

By Friday, a valve had been installed to stop the flow of water – and the rotten-egg smell – until the development work begins.

16 thoughts on “Natural Spring Flowing Again at Hot Wells

  1. I especially like the idea of being able to get off the trail and have a cold drink and soak your feet in the warm water. Reminds me of the lovely hot springs in Big Bend. Great addition to the parks and the south side of SA.

    • I agree Sarah, I disliked passing through that side of town and having nothing to indicate the historical value of that location. This will give it life. I hope they opt for cottages instead of a hotel to keep the atmosphere of the place.

  2. I wish someone could refresh my memory about the combination of Hot Wells and Terrell Wells. Perhaps my age betrays my memory, but I think of these as two different places. I do remember the smell of sulfur at Terrell Wells, as well as the shallowness of the pool itself, because my mother would not go into deep water. Can anyone tell me my memory is correct or not?
    Thank you.

    • Terrell Well smells …. omg. I remember cousins always making that little chant. I never knew why but I guess we just got use to the smell.

    • Yes. They are two different places. Terrell Wells was in south-central Bexar County, to the west and slightly south of the Hot Wells site. And yes, there was also a hot-water artesian well there. A small settlement grew up around the well and subsequent pool. There is still a neighborhood over there known as Terrell Wells.

  3. This will be such a wonderful addition to San Antonio! Can’t wait to feel the hot springs and enjoy the waters once again! Thank you James for investing in SA!!!

  4. I was blessed, as a military dependant, to live in your Europe for eight (8) years and that was one thing I remember enjoying the most, the hot springs, especially in the winters. I am so thrilled to read this article and look so forward to this venue. Yes to cottages…no more hotels!!!

  5. Ever since I moved to San Antonio in 1990 I knew about Hot Wells and even though it was left in ruin there were a few of us that stopped by occasionally while the hot water was still to be had. It is such an amazing place and I am so happy to hear that it is flowing again!! Thank you James!!

  6. We used to explore that place as kids in the 40’s. I lived on Avondale. The bar in the hotel was open…it was called “the Flame Room”. We thought the hotel was haunted.

  7. When I was a child in the early 50s,we enjoyed soaking,sliding,and tubbing at Hot Wells. This lead to my spending comfortable times in hot springs that we research and visit on vacations.
    When I saw the drilling rig at the newly open site of Hot Wells, I got my hopes up that I would once again smell sulfur and soak in warm water. I’m very excited about the news that plans are in the works.

  8. Not to rain on anybody’s parade; just being realistic: I remember having to throw away not only my bathing suit, but also my shorts and t-shirt after bathing in Hot Wells. Never could get rid of that sulphur smell. Still, I’m looking forward to it and will keep my old bathing suits handy. Exciting times!

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