Although the springs are no longer accessible and the water craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s have long passed, Excelsior Springs, Missouri still retains many of the original architecture and charm of its historic past. Located about 28 miles outside of Kansas City (30 minutes in good traffic), the town still has a variety of cultural and historical attractions. You can also walk on a self-guided tour of the mineral wells that used to dot the landscape during the early part of the 20th century.
The town was named for a collection of mineral springs in the area. There were ten varieties of water, including sodium bicarbonate (soda), which worked to stabilize stomach acid. Today, think of it the same as mixing baking soda and water to help sooth acid indigestion. Back in the day, thousands of people would come to the springs to drink or bathe in the waters to sooth different ailments. Today, you can’t find any springs to drink or bathe in, but you can still find the wells around town. What you may see as a simple pagoda is probably sitting on top of a capped off, stone mineral well.
The town isn’t very large so seeing the sites and the old wells can easily be done in two to three hours. If you take an excursion to one of the nearby state parks, plan for more time.
Parking Advice. You can walk to most places downtown, so I recommend parking in the visitor’s parking lot off Broadway. Search the Parking Lot on E. Broadway Street (across from Ray’s Café and beside the building that houses the Mug Coffeehouse). If your phone doesn’t recognize it, search for The Mug Coffeehouse in Excelsior Springs (or click on link), and it is east of that building. Parking is free, and you can easily walk across the small street to reach the attractions. You can also park down by the Elms Hotel if you are going to do the self-guided walking tour. The walking tour is more of a walk than visiting downtown separately so if you have any mobility issues, I would recommend going to both places and planning your route from there.
101 E. Broadway, Excelsior Springs, MO 64024
Interested in the history of the town? Stop at the Museum and Archives building first. The architecture alone makes it well worth the building with a unique arched ceiling with the turn of the century frescos. Originally Clay County State Bank, the museum was built around the turn of the century and includes architectural details from the period. You can also watch a video about the area in an old bank vault.
201 E. Broadway, Excelsior Springs, MO
The largest building, the Hall of Waters, was built in 1937 to pipe the variety of 10 natural springs of water into one location. The building is a creative work of Art Deco and Depression-Modern styling with faux-Mayan friezes and offered bathhouses, a spa, therapy swimming pools, and a water bar. The Hall also bottled and distributed the spring water for Excelsior Springs, both locally and around the world. The water bar hosts a small museum dedicated to providing information about the economic and historical importance of the mineral waters. It is also known as the world’s longest water bar.
You can’t view the pools (in the basement) or drink any water, but the décor (including the chandeliers) and water bar are good for a visit. You can find what looks to be like an old water dispensing spout in the floor of the women’s bathroom. I think. Today, it is home to a variety of local government offices and serves as the city hall.
McCleary Thornton-Minor Hospital
402 St. Louis Avenue, Excelsior Springs, MO
The late Victorian-era brick building dates to 1877 and was used significantly between 1894 and 1948. It is the last remaining portion of the McClearly Clinic when bottles of mineral waters and treatments were used to treat rectal and colonic diseases. It is located along parts of Thompson and St. Louis Avenues in Excelsior Springs. You can drive by it, but it is often easier to view the outside on the walking tour. Traffic can be complicated in this area, so try to see what works best for you. The building is empty, however, so there isn’t any great need to do a stop at this location, other than to see the Victorian architecture.
401 Regent St., Excelsior Springs, MO 64024
Still open for business, however, is the historic Elms Hotel & Spa, which has operated for over 125 years. The hotel allowed guests to soak in mineral water baths, visit the lush gardens, or stay overnight to visit the other attractions in the area. The original hotel burned in 1898 and was rebuilt in 1908. This hotel was also destroyed by fire in 1910, and the removed hotel was reopened in 1912 and stands today. It is a beautiful hotel that is constructed of limestone and is on the National Register of Historic Sites. If you are from out of the Kansas City area, it might be worth it to book a stay just to explore the historic hotel and the area.
2938, 1261 St Louis Ave, Excelsior Springs, MO
The Inn on Crescent Lake is another architecture and nature lover’s dream. The red-brick Georgian Colonial mansion is over 100 years old and is surrounded by majestic pine trees and a beautiful creek. There is a nature trail for guests (that you can see if you follow the circular drive) and you can paddle boat or row on the lake. In early summer, the property is visited by juvenile red-tail hawks who learn to fly near the mansion. The rooms are not too pricey and would make a great weekend getaway from Kansas City or if you want to stay in town while you tour the area. I just can’t comment enough on the beauty of the grounds.
List of Wells to Find Downtown
Today, you cannot drink from the waters nor really see them. Pagodas usually mark the spot where the wells are located and sit on top of the well. If you walk down beside the Pagoda, you can see the stone walls of the wells that people used to visit. The waters from these wells were usually free to the public, but you often had to pay when visiting one of the hotels or Hall of Waters. Here is a list of the wells that you can find downtown in the order that you would walk from the Elms Hotel.
- Salt Sulphur Well. The site of the original sulpho-saline well, the small brick building in the parking lot on the west side of the Elms Hotel was the Elms pump house built in 1913. It is located on Kansas City Avenue just west of the Elms Hotel (before you get to Regent Ave).
- White Sulphur Spring. The well was one of the ten waters piped into the Hall of Waters and was used in the swimming pool. It is at 505 Elms Boulevard, just off Isley Boulevard (Hwy 10).
- Soda Saline Spring. The Soda Saline Spring, also known as the Lithiated Soda Spring, can be found at 302 W. Excelsior to the north of town, behind the School District office building.
- Salt Sulphur Pavilion. This spring is located near the north end of Main street and was one of the ten waters pipped into the Hall of Waters.
- Excelsior Springs Lithia Spring. This spring was discovered in 1888 and was kept on tap for visitors at the Planters Hotel. It can be found in the parking lot across from the Hall of Waters.
- Sulfo Salt Spring and Link’s Soda Springs. The Sulfo Salt Spring was a saline well, and the stone gazebo from the area still stands. The Link’s soda well can also be found This can be found near the intersection of Excelsior and Elizabeth streets.
- Mee Soda Spring and Natrona Soda Spring. The Mee Soda Spring, with its soda bicarbonate waters, can be found a 204 E. Excelsior. The Natrona Soda Spring is also located nearby at 402 E. Excelsior.
- Excelsior Soda Spring. Another soda bicarbonate spring can be found at 101 Linden, next to the Hiawatha House.
- Saratoga Spring. The Saratoga Spring, nicknamed “sleepy spring” due to the effect that the calcium bicarbonate water had, can be found around 339 E. Broadway, near the end of the main street buildings.
- Lithia #1 Well. The Lithia No. 1 Spring was discovered either in 1883 or 1884 and is also known to have calcium bicarbonate. It can be found at 245 E. Broadway.
- Excelsior Spring. Excelsior Spring is one of the six iron manganese waters and the second spring opened. It can be found at 219 E. Broadway under a pagoda.
- Siloam Spring. The original spring lies under the front steps of the Hall of Waters, so, no pagoda. It was one of the six iron manganese waters
- Crystal Lithia Spring. The Crystal Lithia Spring, which has lithia or calcium bicarbonate, can be found on the corner of Saratoga and Benton. The Lithia Bottling Company manufactured its waters from this spring.
- Superior No. 2 Spring. The Superior No. 2 Spring provides iron manganese water. The pagoda was built in 1901 and is one of the last remaining original pagodas. It is not downtown with the other wells and is along a walking trail in East Valley Park.
An updated copy of the self-guided tour can be found on Visit Excelsior’s website.
Photo: The Excelsior Spring Pavilion where the well had one of six iron manganese waters in the area.
Local Flavor — A Couple of Places to Eat
Ray’s Lunch Café
231 E. Broadway St., Excelsior Springs, MO
While not related to the springs or waters, Ray’s Lunch café is still a landmark in the area with its authentic 1932 seasoned grill, cash register, countertops, barstools, and so forth. The walls are covered with historical newspaper articles and photographs over its long history. One word of warning: make sure you have cash as they don’t take credit or debit cards. The food is fairly inexpensive so a $20 should easily cover two people and a child.
Willow Spring Mercantile
249 E Broadway St, Excelsior Springs, MO
Another local favorite is a bistro offering a wide selection of pizzas, sandwiches, and wraps. It is easily within walking distance of the Elms Hotel
Recommended Side Trip? Visit Watkins Mill State and Historic Park. Beach included.
Where to find it? (Map)