Monday, July 1, 2019

Early American Commercial Floating Bath Houses

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

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 circumference.