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NSG Visit July 19, 2003

What Makes Clifton Springs Special?


Donovan A. Shilling

July 19th, a sunny Saturday, greeted a record thirty members of the New Society of the Genesee as they arrived at the Foster Cottage on Main Street, home to the Clifton Springs Historical Society. Through the planning efforts of members Doug Fisher and Don Kneeland, the gathering was treated to a highly informative tour of the Clifton Springs Historical Society's museum. We met our guide, Fred Gifford, on the front porch of the cottage. Fred who was also the village historian, explained that the marble-like facade of the three-gabled "cottage" was faced with wooden blocks to resemble blocks of marble, a building feature that was also used on Washington's Mount Vernon home.

Within the 1854 cottage built by Henry Foster (1821 - 1901), Fred explained that the kindly doctor had been inspired by God to use his medical talents to aid the ailments of his fellow man with spiritual guidance as well as his renowned "Water Cure." Thus, he opened the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic as a Sanitarium on September 30, 1850, founding the first hospital in Western New York employing the mineral waters from a sulphur spring. Hydrotherapy, used internally as well as externally, "stimulated the body's own healing force by enhancing the oxygenation and circulation of blood and lymph, by promoting digestion of food and nutrition to the cells…and the elimination of toxins…and assisting the restoration of nervous equilibrium."

The Spa included a tabernacle erected by Dr. Foster in 1890 which served for many years as a site for the annual meetings of the International Missionary Society. It was Dr. Foster's belief that the soul should receive treatment as well as the body and mind. To this end, the Sanitarium was the first in the nation to offer a permanent chaplaincy.

Seven rooms of memorabilia are given over the the display of early artifacts. The Sanitarium collection included a large exhibit of early photographs and a list of the 576 nurses that graduated from its School of Nursing. Many photos and objects from village enterprises and firms such as the G. W. Lisk Company and a cigar manufacturer could be viewed. Additionally, a neat collection of Indian arrow heads plus a large number of badges and ribbons from the Clifton Springs Fire Department were displayed, plus a fine collection of vintage, wooden wheelchairs. Military memorabilia filled an upstairs room with yet another room holding an assortment of white, wicker furniture once lounged upon by Spa patients.

For one Society member, Isabel Geibel, the tour was very special, engendering some early memories. As a high school graduate, before entering college at Alfred University, Isabel was employed in 1939 as a nurse's aide. Her task was to help the nurses serving the Spa's facility devoted to rehabilitating alcoholics.

Charlotte Wytias, manager for the new Springs of Clifton, provided our group with a special introduction to her newly-built "Integrated Health Care Center for Body-Mind-Spirit—A Place for Health and Healing." The six tub facility, with private rooms will open in the Fall of 2003. Plans are also to reopen the sulphur baths closed in the 1950s. An enthusiastic Charlotte explained that the mission of the Springs of Clifton was to make use of hydro-therapy, plus "naturo-pathic theapy, oriental medicine and pastoral counseling."

Following her presentation, she led the group along a flower-lined pathway across a small bridge to tour the original Sanitarium. All those who walked across the bridge spanning Sulphur Creek had their lungs filled with the very distinctive aroma of sulphur dioxide. There was no one in the group who could doubt what the major component of its flowing water was.

Thge village itself is well worth strolling through to observe its neatly restored Main Street buildings and their distinguishing brick architecture. One such building, our site for lunch, the 1871 Warfield Block was restored in 1995. Society members completed their tour by enjoying spirited conversation over a pleasant lunch in the structure, now known as the posh Warfield Restaurant.

© 2003, Donovan A. Shilling
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