“TAKING THE WATERS”
It’s a tall order to be called the “Saratoga of the South,” but the mineral springs along the Sulphur Creek branch of the Lampasas River have attracted health-seekers from Native Americans, to Spanish explorers, to 19th and 20th Century visitors. The reputed curative powers of the waters helped Lampasas recover from a tense era of floods, fires and feuds following the Civil War. After the railroad arrived in 1882 the town grew as a resort — and as the Lampasas County seat -- with spas, hotels and saloons. Visitors wanting to “take the waters” were transported from the railroad depot to their hotels by mule-drawn streetcars drawn. By 1911 the town’s Hancock Springs Park included a swimming pool and a bathhouse. During World War II, soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Hood came to the park’s Hostess House for dances. Today, that restored structure hosts special events, the sulphur springs flow, and the stone walls of the park’s bathhouse have been preserved.
Each July, Lampasas celebrates its healing-waters heritage with the weeklong Spring Ho festival. On Saturdays year-around, the Keystone Square Museum exhibits period artifacts including a card table from a saloon; an 1880s bank teller cage; an antique doll collection, and a death basket used to transport bodies in the days before ambulances. But the centerpiece of the downtown historic district is the 1884 Lampasas County Courthouse. Architect W.C. Dodson designed the building in the Second Empire style with a central clock tower, arched windows, and a mansard roof. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the five oldest courthouses in Texas that still serve county government. The courthouse – and the town -- survived floods in 1936 and 1957, but time and “modernization” took their toll on the historic structure. Restored to its stately self with assistance from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, the courthouse was rededicated in 2004.