EDITOR'S NOTE: Today the Union-Sun & Journal is launching "Abandoned History," a series of research-based articles by Jim Boles, Ed.D., a Lockport native and the retired CEO of People Inc. Boles now works part-time at the Museum of disABILITY History in Amherst, researching early care and healing with a focus on Niagara County and Lockport. Boles has a strong interest in preserving the area's local history and promoting cultural tourism. Abandoned History will be published in the US&J every other Wednesday. 

 

Because Lockport has the notable Niagara Escarpment running along its width, east to west, there were and still are many springs as the groundwater eventually makes its way north. 

My research about springs in the eastern United States shows a pattern of discovery by early travelers and settlers and their writings often mention local Native Americans using the springs for medicinal purposes.

Many of the Native American trails, which later became our roads, led to springs or had springs along the way. The springs were important as a geographic reference and as drinking water for travelers and their animals. Soon after settlement, the springs became of value for commercial purposes and medicinal use. As the population increased, the water from springs was used to supplement the town wells, which often would become contaminated. 

At the east end of the city of Lockport, just north of Route 31, is a path behind a picturesque, tree-lined parkway that leads down to one of the more famous mineral springs which operated as a commercial business for over 80 years.

Vita Water was founded in 1916, by Lockport delicatessen owner James R. Rowe when the city issued License 017. Vita Water had many health claims that were revealed in local advertising. The strongest ads stated that the drinking water would prevent death and typhoid fever, overcome bad feelings and ward off germs and disease.

An analysis in 1923 reported it was 100 percent pure with high levels of magnesium chloride (salt found in dry sea beds), calcium sulfate (salt), calcium carbonite (antacid), and six other minerals including lithium bicarbonate, another salt which in a refined form is presently used to treat a mental health condition now classified as Bipolar Disorder. It may seem that with all the salts in the mineral water it would taste salty; however, residents who drank the water said it was clear and refreshing.

Marketed as mineral water with health benefits, Vita Water was widely distributed to homes, businesses, restaurants and health facilities in the greater Niagara County area. Vita Spring was claimed to be “as pure as it’s possible for water to be.”

Vita Spring is a natural spring on a hill in what locals called Rogers Grove. It poured out of the escarpment at a rate of up to 7,200 gallons a day, although the flow would slow in the summer and often have more bacteria after a heavy rain. In later years, the water was tested and treated.

The spring operated for over 80 years with only four owners. James R. Rowe started the bottling in 1916, T. Bernard Rooney took over in 1930 and he was helped by Lockport fireman Bob Randall for 20 years. In the 1970s and 1980s, Warren Haseley owned the company. Doug Thompson took over the operation in the 1980s. He sold the customer list to Mayers Brothers Bottling in 1996 and the Vita Water operation closed.

Vita Spring and its land are presently listed for sale with a local realtor and there are rumors of a possible re-opening of the business.

• • •

This article is a summary of over three years of research and I would like to thank the following people who I interviewed about Vita Spring: local residents Tom McDonough, Jim Castle, Jay Krull and Warren Haseley, former owner and operator (1970s-1980s); Bob Randall, retired fireman who phoned from his home in Virginia and reviewed 20 years as a bottler and driver; and Doug Thompson, present owner and former operator in the 1980s-1990s. I’d also like to thank the Niagara County Historian's Office, the Lockport Public Library, the Niagara County Historical Society and Will Philipps, University at Buffalo geologist and consultant.

 

Jim Boles is a senior researcher with the Museum of disABILITY History, 3826 Main St., Amherst, which is dedicated to preserving the history of people with disabilities. The next scheduled event at the museum, discussion and a book signing of its latest publication, "Buffalo State Hospital — A History in Light & Shadow," will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 23.

To talk with Jim about Abandoned History, call 629-3626 or send an email to jboles@people-inc.org

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