Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sports at America's Public Spaces - Swimming & Bathing

Apparently herbal baths were popular early 

Many Atlantic coast colonials enjoyed swimming in the ocean. Some oceanside swimming was done from a public pleasure garden, which was a privately owned ornamental ground or piece of land, open to the public as a resort or amusement area, and operated as a business. In 1773, a combination mineral spring & seaside spa advertised from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, "The Convenient put into every good Order, for the Reception of such as incline to bathe in Sea Water...The Mineral Spring is also in good Order...Genteel lodgings to be had in private Families."

For centuries, people visited Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, to enjoy the health benefits of the warm mineral waters that flow from local springs at a constant temperature of 74.3°F. Reportedly Native Americans from as far away as Canada, the Great Lakes, & the Carolinas traveled to bathe there. In the mid 1700s, George Washington, who first visited at age 16, was a regular visitor and spread word of the waters, helping establish Berkeley Springs' reputation as a health resort throughout the American colonies.

One of the earliest sources showing an appreciation of mineral waters for bathing in the new world is a 1748 reference in George Washington’s diary to the “fam’d Warm Springs.” At that time only open ground surrounded the springs which were located within a dense forest.

Another entry for July 31, 1769, records his departure with Mrs. Washington for these springs (now known as Berkeley Springs, West Virginia) where they stayed more than a month. They were accompanied by her daughter, Patsy Custis, who was probably taken in hope of curing a form of epilepsy with which she was afflicted. In the latter part of the 18C hundreds of visitors annually flocked to these springs. Although the accommodations were primitive, we early note that the avowed therapeutic aims for visiting these waters were very quickly combined with a growing social life on dry land.

Rude log huts, board and canvas tents, and even covered wagons, served as lodging rooms, while every party brought its own substantial provisions of flour, meat and bacon, depending for lighter articles of diet on the “Hill folk,” or the success of their own foragers. A large hollow scooped in the sand, surrounded by a screen of pine brush, was the only bathing-house; and this was used alternately by ladies and gentlemen. The time set apart for the ladies was announced by a blast on a long tin horn, at which signal all of the opposite sex retired to a prescribed distance, ... Here day and night passed in a round of eating and drinking, bathing, fiddling, dancing, and reveling. Gaming was carried to a great excess and horse-racing was a daily amusement.

An announcement in the New England Weekly Journal of Boston, MA. September 16, 1740 gave notice that "There is now finish'd and ready for Use, a very convenient and ornamental Cold Bath, accomdated to both Sexes in the Garden at the West End of Town, that was formerly Capt. Gooh's, now in the Occumpation of William Griggs; where constant Attendance will be given for giving and receiving the Key: All Invalids whose Disorders by the Advice of their Physicians require it, my receive all the Advantages that can arise by Cold Bathing."

An advertisement in The Boston Gazette, or, Weekly Advertiser on February 26, 1754, offered to be let a House with a garden reaching 360 down to the seashore with, "a beautiful cold Bath enclose'd, which ismore or less imporved every Season, and hath been found very beneficial: the shole well-adepted for a publick Garden."

Philadelphia boasted several public gardens featuring bathing & swimming. A proposal for publically financed baths created a controversy on August 20, 1761, when the The Pennsylvania Gazette reported that a group of religious leaders in Philadelphia wrote a letter to the governor.  "It hath been with the greatest Concern, for some Years past, that we have observed, among our Fellow Citizens, an immoderate and growing Fondness for Pleasure, Luxury, Gaming, Dissipation, and their concomitant Vices. The Impropriety as well as Ingratitude of such a Conduct, is too remarkable to be passed over... Last Winter, we heard of high Scenes of public Gaming, added to and mixed with the usual Diversions of the Season. And yet, not content with these, our Projectors of Pleasure, our Leaders in Modes and Fashions, as if they were afraid to leave themselves or their Followers one Moment for Business, or sober Conversation, or serious Reflection upon what they were sent for into this World, have set on Foot a Scheme for filling up the Summer Season also with the like Scenes of Dissipation, Idleness and Excess. The Scheme we mean (as far as it is yet avowed by them) is a large Subscription Lottery, for erecting public Gardens, with Baths or Bagnios, among us. How destructive such Places of public Rendezvous are to the Morals of a People, what they usually terminate in, and how ill suited they are to the Circumstances of this young City, and the former Character of its Inhabitants, we need not mention to your Honour...Were a hot and cold Bath necessary for the health of the Inhabitants of this City, they might at a small Expence be added to the Hospital, put under the sober Government of that Place, and kept separate from those used by the Patients; and as to a publick Place of Walking, the State House Green or Garden , by a Law of the Province, is already set apart for that Use. --- But much more than this lurks under this Scheme, and will certainly attend its Accomplishment. We well know that Gaming Tables, a House of Entertainment, Places of Drinking, and the like, make a Part of public Gardens."

Apparently, the popularity of public baths was not squashed in the Quaker city.  In 1765, John White advertised his New Bath in Northern Philadelphia, to "Accomodate Ladies and Gentlemen with Breakfasting, on the best of Tea, Coffee. amd Chocolate, with plenty of GOOD CREAM...He likewise hopes to give Satisfaction to any Person whose Health may require their going to the Bath, by his Attention and by furnishing them with Brushes and proper Towels."

One of the mineral springs in Pennsylvania attracted from 100 to 500 guests daily in the summer season.  The public bath, Yellow Springs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was put up for auction in March of 1770 as advertised in the The Pennsylvania Gazette"A VALUABLE plantation...well known by the name of the Yellow Springs, situate in Pikeland township, Chester county, about 30 miles from Philadelphia, containing 150 acres, one half or more cleared, the other well timbered, and the whole well watered, by never failing streams...having thereon erected a good stone dwelling house, 2 stories high, 57 feet front, and 36 in depth, a fine piazza in the front, the whole breadth of the house, 8 or 9 feet wide, good cellars and chambers, kitchen barn, stables, and other out houses...The medicinal virtues of the springs, on the above plantation, for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly, are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here. There are three bathing springs, which can be emptied or filled in a very little time, by opening or shutting a sluice; two of them are inclosed by good new frame houses, 35 feet front, and 16 feet deep. Each bath has a drawing room, and one a fireplace in it; the buildings are neat, and make an elegant appearance, having glass windows front and back, and walks, with rows of shady trees, up to the dwelling house...The dwelling house, on said plantation, is now used as a public house, and is so well accustomed as to have from 100 to 500 people daily, for the summer season, besides the unhealthy and infirm that come from all parts, and take lodgings for weeks together, for the benefit of the waters."  In 1774, Dr. Samuel Kennedy offered to rent Yellow Springs, which he had apparently purchased 4 years before, noting, "The Baths and other outhouses are in good repair...from four to six hundred persons have convened there in one day in the summer season."

In The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal on July 16, 1770, Sarah Dawson, widow of Joseph Dawson, Gardner, deceased, at the Cold Bath in Cambridge Stree, New Boston wished to inform "all Gentlemen and others that the Cold Bath is now in good Order, and constant Attendance will be given as usual...Also a large and commodious Garden for Gentlemen and Ladies to walk in and spend an Afternoon if they please, where they may have all Kind of Fruits and Flowers at the lowest Rate."
Lady Worsley dressing in the Bathing House by an Unknown British artist, 1782

The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser on February 20, 1790 offered to be let, "The Wigwam Tavern...on the banks of the Schuylkill...with a shower and two plungings Bath...and 7 summer houses."  And within the year, John Coyle opened his commercial garden on the Schuykill River in 1791. Coyle's Wigwam Garden featured a good restaurant with excellent coffee, a bowling green, and public baths.

In 1795, public garden owner George Esterly announced Philadelphia's Harrowgate Spring, "In the house erected over the Harrowgate waters are two shower baths and two dressing rooms and at the Chalybeate spring, is a convenient bath for plunging and swimming...The garden is in excellent order...He is determined to keep the best of liquors of all kinds. Breakfasts, dinners, teas, coffee and fruits of all kinds may be had at the shortest notice, and also excellent accomodations for boardings and lodgings."

The Bristol Baths, twenty miles north of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, were advertised for sale in 1807 with, "plunging showers and warm baths." When the property was put up for sale again in 1811, the advertisement described, a "Mansion 112 by 33 feet; 30 lodging rooms; 12 ft piazza in front of the whole; 2 kitchens; bar room and stabling for 100 horses...ballroom 45 by 18 feet, a billiard room, mineral baths, warm baths, pump room...40 acres."

Advertisements for mineral springs usually contained claims for improvement of health in addition to the more obvious enticements. In 1811, the owner claimed that the waters at Chalybeate Springs in Virginia, "have been inspected by a number of medical gentlemen, both of the city and country, and are admitted to be equal if not superior in their medical and healing qualities to any of the kind ever discovered in America, or perhaps in the world. Liquors of the best kind will be provided and entertainment as good as the country and the season will permit."

Early Bath House

By the early 19th century floating baths were established in every city of any importance including Boston, Salem, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. One bath located at the foot of Jay Street in New York City was described as follows: "The building is an octagon of seventy feet in diameter, with a plank floor supported by logs so as to sink the center bath four feet below the surface of the water, but in the private baths the water may be reduced to three or even two feet so as to be perfectly safe for children. It is placed in the current so always to be supplied with ocean and pure water and rises and falls with the tide."

As was true at the springs, men and women were segregated; but in the floating baths they were only separated by being in different compartments rather than in different bath houses.

Although there were a number of these baths there were not enough to cover all of the inviting river banks and sea shores. There are many instances of men enjoying the water of undeveloped shores and there is some evidence of women venturing into the bays and rivers.

Hot - Cold by J. Green, British School c. 1746 Perhaps an English lady preparing for a cold bath

Bathing and swimming were popular up and down the Atlantic Coast. Henry Wansey visited Long Island in 1794, and noted, "A Mr. Bailey, of New York, has just built a very handsome tea-drinking pleasure house, to accommodate parties who come hither from all the neighbouring ports; he intends also to have bathing machines, and several species of entertainment."

In 1805, James Lownes proudly announced the the citizens of Virginia that he had "AT CONSIDERABLE EXPENSE, ERECTED A BATHING HOUSE" at the Falling Garden in Richmond. His new structure contained four rooms "each has a Bath, and supplied with Hot and Col Water." Bathers could purchase tickets from the attendant who was in "constant attendance at the Bathe." One dollar bought three baths, and two children could bath with only one ticket.

The most ambitious plan for a public bath appeared in Charleston in 1813. The "splendid Establishment" at the East Bay was a "CIRCULAR FLOATING BATHING HOUSE." The proprietor declared it to be "a beautiful structure...greatly ornamental to the city," as well as increasing the town's "resources for health and pleasure...FORTY capacious private bathing rooms, lighted by VENETIAN windows: a large SWIMMING bath in the centre, of about 160 feet circumference: FORTY Dressing CLOSETS attached to the swimming bath: two spacious SITTING rooms, one for the...LADIES, and the other for GENTLEMEN" All this housed inside a floating circle 250 feet in circuference.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote about both the art & utility of swimming. He was an accomplished & enthusiastic swimmer, having first taught himself by paddling around as a young boy, and perfecting his strokes by reading an illustrated treatise called “The Art of swimming ... with advice for bathing.”  In his late teens, while working in London, Franklin showed off his swimming skills to friends: “I stript and leapt into the River, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfryars, performing on the way many Feats of Activity both upon and under Water.”

His “Feats” were widely discussed, and a few months later, Sir William Wyndham approached Franklin to ask him to teach his sons to swim. Franklin recalled in his Autobiography that, “From this Incident I thought it likely, that if I were to remain in England and open a Swimming School, I might get a good Deal of Money. And it struck me so strongly, that had the Overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.”

Franklin, an inveterate inventor, also fashioned swimming paddles for his hands & feet to help him swim faster. Unfortunately, his paddles were made out of wood & were too heavy to aid his swimming. He also floated in the water while holding onto a kite, hoping the wind power from the kite would pull him across the water.

Benjamin Franklin quoted the 1699 book "The Art of Swimming. Illustrated by proper figures. With advice for bathing..." By Monsìeur Thevenot.  Here are figures from that book. Melchisédech Thévenot (1620-1692) was a French author, scientist, traveler, cartographer, orientalist, inventor, & diplomat. He was famous for his 1690s book The Art of Swimming, one of the first books on the subject.." These images are from Capital Collections - The Image Library of Edinburgh City Libraries & Museums & Galleries.

Of the manner of entering into the water
Suspension by the Chin
The Perpendicular Descent
To come to the top of the water, after having dived
To swim holding up the hands
To swim neither on back, nor belly
To swim on the belly holding both your hands still
The Art of Swimming 1699

Bathing in streams was certainly not new to British American colonists arriving in the new world, as the following images indicate.

 François Boucher (French painter, 1703–1770) Bathers in a Stream

William Taverner (English artist, 1703-1772) Women Bathing

Benjamin West (American painter, 1738-1820) The Bathing Place at Ramsgate 1788 detail