Spring Water

written by C.E. Carroll

[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]

Abana1Daniel Webster, at one time in the dim past, is said to have owned land on South Milwaukee Avenue on the present Cuneo farm and we do know that his son, Fletcher Webster, lived there for a time. History relates that it was the wide spread reputation of our fine spring water that attracted the Webster's to this area

The earliest settlements were along the west side of the Des Plaines and it was the endeavor of each settler to include a portion of the river in his claim to insure water for his stock and we find all of the early farms were laid out in long narrow tracts with the east or west bounds at rights angles to the river at the particular point and this accounts for the fact that our present township maps look like jigsaw puzzles, for every man was his own surveyor at first and the river was far from straight. For household use the farmer dug a well and he usually found a good supply of water at less than twenty feet below the surface. Most of this water was clear and "sweet". That is it had no pronounced taste or odor but in some places, especially on the east side of the river, there were springs and wells of strong mineral content, principally sulphur, which gave the water a disagreeable odor and a milky appearance when drawn into a large vessel. This however, was believed to be highly beneficial to humans and to stock and persons soon became accustomed to the taste and odor and even preferred it to the "sweet" water.

Settlements along the shore of Lake Michigan drew their water supply from the lake and this was particularly true of Chicago some thirty miles to the south. With the rapid growth of this city and the increasing amount of sewerage poured into the river which then emptied into the lake the water supply became contaminated, and though the water intakes were extended far out into the lake and some crude attempts at filtration made, the lake water was still far from clean and the fastidious would have welcomed a supply of the pure Lake County water at least for a table beverage. Probably the first to recognize this was an enterprising Libertyville man named Frederick Grabbe.

Frederick Grabbe was born in Hanover, Germany in 1845 and was brought to America by his parents when only three years old. His father died when Frederick was still quite young and his mother married a farmer in Fremont Township where Frederick grew up, leading the typical life of a farm boy of the time, until he was sixteen years old.

This was in 1861 and the Civil War had begun. Fredrick now enlisted, as a private, in Co. G of the 51st Illinois Infantry, at first for three years and then re-enlisted as a veteran for the duration. During the hectic years from 1861 to 1865 he took part in 31 battles and was severely wounded in one. He covered an immense amount of our Country in the war's various theatres and rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He was mustered out with his Company at the war's end in 1865. After the War he came to Libertyville where he was married in 1872 and lived, with his wife, on a small farm located on the present site of Taylor & Seiler's store and running back toward the lake. Here Grabbe raised fruit and vegetables and kept bees and also pastured the fine saddle horses of General Walter C. Newberry with whom he collaborated on various projects. General Newberry was a man of considerable wealth. The breeding and training of saddle horses was something of a hobby with him but he had numerous other business interests and he had great faith in the future of Libertyville and had invested in land here. One tract was on the east side of Milwaukee Avenue just south of the Milwaukee Road tracks. The General lived in Chicago but came here frequently.

He subdivided some of his land and Grabbe sold it for him. This was the area along the present Newberry Avenue. Newberry gave some of the lots to Grabbe on which he erected his mills. Several wells had been drilled on lots along Newberry by that time and these had all produced water of fine quality that flowed from a pipe without pumping and was so cold that some of the people had it piped into their basements where it flowed into a concrete basin and served as a refrigerator for milk, butter and other perishables. This gave Grabbe the idea of bottling the water for sale.

He had a well drilled on his own property, which, from a depth of only sixty feet delivered a constant flow of clear cold water. He had this analyzed and found it to be free from any contamination or undesirable minerals.

Grabbe and Newberry now formed a company to bottle the water in five gallon glass derrijohns. If was just at this time that Libertyville’s first railroad was completed. This was the branch line from the Milwaukee Road at Rondout which came to Libertyville in 1880. Newberry was the president of the local railroad company that accomplished this and it was now possible to ship the water to Chicago. The partners arranged with C.F. Greenwood, a commission merchant on LaSalle Street to distribute their product and this arrangement continued profitably for many years. The well on Newberry was called Abana Spring, supposedly named after a famous well in the Holy Land, though it may have been named for an ancient health resort in the province of Padua in Italy which was famed in early Roman times for its white sulphur springs whose waters were believed to cure skin diseases.

The Abana Springs was enclosed within a neat frame building and was surrounded by a well kept garden and lawn. The water flowed continually from a curving pipe into the sunken basin and drained away and needed only one man to push the derrijohns under the pipe and to cork them when full.

The partners now saw the possibility of promoting other springs in this area. The sulphur water that flowed from the bank of the Des Plaines river near the Rockland road bridge was said to have been highly esteemed by the Indians in times long passed as a cure for many ailments. An analysis proved that it did contain elements of value in the treatment of some maladies. Grabbe and Newberry bottled and shipped some of this under the name of "Vital Water", but they had to put it into brown glass bottles for the sun's rays shining through the clear glass so activated the chemicals as to generate gas which sometimes exploded. They now had visions of a great Health Resort at Libertyville, another Saratoga or White Sulphur Springs.

The General brought in Army engineers to survey the situation at the Sulphur Spring but their verdict was that it would entail an expenditure of some $200,000 to develop the spring properly. The whole course of the dirty river would have to be changed, for one thing to divert it from the spring. This put a damper on the great idea and the partners abandoned it with great reluctance and contented themselves with their growing table water trade. They had, in their first enthusiasm, written some pamphlets proclaiming the virtues of Vital Water and containing some glowing testimonials from some of the local people who had used it and some endorsements from the Medical profession. We still have some of these pamphlets. After the death of General Newberry, Grabbe became the sole owner of Abana and after the North Shore Railroad built its line from Lake Bluff to Libertyville in 1903 he was able to ship his water to all of the North Shore towns. For this trade he put the water up in one gallon bottles, six to the case and it was sold in grocery stores.

In the course of time the original vein was tapped by deeper wells of some of our industrial plants and the flow of Abana Spring diminished. Grabbe then found he could strike water of the same character in a vein on Park Place. He bought property there and drilled his second Abana Spring there on. This supplied the needs of his business from 1910 until his death in 1915, after which the business was liquidated.

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.