On a recent Friday afternoon, people crowded the spring house at Indian Springs State Park, collecting jugs full of the mineral water that flows from the artesian spring it covers.
While the park marks the water as not intended for drinking, all but two people at the spring planned to use the water as a health tonic. Don Niebruegge, who holds a master’s degree in chemistry, planned to take some home and do a little scientific testing with his grandchildren, Bella Allen and Ethan Niebruegge.
“Don’t waste it,” Niebruegge called out to Ethan as he opened the spray top on his bottle and aimed it toward his cousin Bella.
Bella had tasted her water and was seated on a rock, making a sour face. Ethan managed to spray his grandmother Sarah Niebruegge instead, causing her to burst into laughter.
Sarah Niebruegge, who grew up in Griffin and now lives at Jackson Lake, brings her grandchildren to the springs as part of a family tradition. She has been coming to the springs regularly since she was a child. It was a well-visited field trip site for her school, she said.
“Every time I come here it’s like I’m Bella’s age again,” Sarah Niebruegge said.
Don Niebruegge was talking with Denise Bailey, who said she has come to the springs regularly since 1999. Niebruegge noted the spring water was not its usual milky color. Bailey, who usually comes down from south metro Atlanta in the afternoon, said she had never seen it cloudy.
As another visitor carried away water he said he planned to use on his tomatoes to see if it would help with blossom end rot, Niebruegge decided recent rains must have diluted the spring so at the moment there was more water than minerals coming out of the pipe.
“I never drink the (Indian Springs) water,” he said. “I don’t drink tap water either.”
Bailey, on the other hand, swears by the Indian Springs water and said she drinks and cooks with neither tap nor bottled water. She said she suspects her tap water is contaminated and she does not know where bottled water comes from.
“Since I’ve been drinking the Indian Springs water, I’ve come back from the dead,” Bailey said, noting she has some medical issues. “I borrow a vehicle and come get as much as I can. I trust it over any water anywhere. You never see a speck of anything floating in it. Water washes the toxins out of your body.”
Bailey said she began drinking the mineral water after she came down with a friend to collect water and tried it for herself. She said the state park limits water collection to 25 gallons per vehicle and she gets the full amount every time she comes down.
The park itself is one of her favorite places, Bailey said. In addition to its Native American history — the springs were a sacred site to indigenous peoples — she admires the buildings, including the spring house, constructed during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
“I’ve probably been a part of four or five wedding receptions just coming here to get my water,” she said, pointing to the nearby Stone Pavilion where such events are held.
“The spring house gets 10 to 15 visitors a day, minimum,” Indian Springs State Park Manager Katherine Darsey said. “This is every day, including Christmas.”
The flowing artesian spring is fed by rain and surface water, Darsey said. The water seeps through underground layers of granite, picking up minerals as it forms an underground pool. As more water enters the pool, the pressure forces it up through more rock to the surface.
The park offers two lists of the minerals in the springs. One is a modern chemical analysis. Another dates from the period when Indian Springs was a famed health resort with several hotels such as the Elder, the Wigwam and the Foy, in addition to the Indian Springs Hotel built by Creek Chief William McIntosh.
Almost all of the minerals on the older list compiled during the health resort era helped with digestion. Other things it supposedly treated were rheumatism, gout, diabetes and cancer.
Sulphuretted hydrogen, which today is called hydrogen sulfide, makes the water look milky. The mineral Don Niebruegge said must have been diluted by recent rains once was promoted as helping digestion, specifically the colon and kidneys.
Carbon dioxide was once purported to aid digestion by increasing the flow of saliva. Sodium sulfate, or Glauber Salts, was said to stimulate the liver and increase urine. Sodium chloride supposedly helped the pancreas, in addition to its digestive uses, and sodium carbonate was said to help decrease acidity in the body.
Magnesium carbonate, sold today as both a mineral supplement and as gym chalk, was a laxative that also helped with acid levels. Calcium carbonate was said to help disintegrate gallstones and kidney stones. It also was supposed to stop the diarrhea caused by the magnesium carbonate.
Arsenic, a poison, was supposed to increase appetite and digestion and help cure skin conditions. It is not listed in the modern spring water analysis. Selica, an apparent misspelling of silica, is quartz sand. It was supposed to treat cancer.
A more recent analysis of the spring water shows that it contains silica, chlorine, sulphur trioxide, carbon dioxide, sodium oxide, potassium oxide, lime, magnesium carbonate, aluminum oxide, ferrous oxide, manganous oxide and phosphoric acid.
People may come to the park during opening hours to collect water, Darsey said, but glass containers are not allowed.
Indians Springs State Park is located at 678 Lake Clark Road, Flovilla. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking is $5.