Jim Bradshaw: Atchafalaya put a stopper in spring water business
Big plans were afoot in the late spring of 1915 “to promote and build up the town of Krotz Springs” by bottling and selling the spring water that gave the town its name. Selling bottled water was a radical idea in those days; no one had yet figured out how to make the plastic jugs that now line grocery store shelves.
C. W. Krotz came to Louisiana from his native Ohio about 1900 looking for land deals that would make him rich. After some speculation in Avoyelles Parish, he moved to St. Landry, where about 20,000 wooded acres in the Atchafalaya Basin were up for sale. He bought the land and set up a sawmill at a point where the Atchafalaya River had silted up and formed a slight rise.
The mill workers set up homes nearby, and pretty soon there was a little settlement named Latania (after a nearby bayou).
Krotz made good money on his investment, but when he heard about the fortunes that were being made from oil discoveries in east Texas and southwest Louisiana, he had geologists look at his land. They said he might be sitting on top of a huge pool of oil.
C. W. wasted no time setting up a drilling rig not far from the present Krotz Springs railroad bridge. When the well got down to about 2,400 feet, it blew a gusher.
But it wasn’t oil; it was pure, sweet water — which turned out to be almost as valuable to a promoter like Krotz.
He quickly began to sell it as a cure for practically anything. According to one of his advertisements, “The water from this well ... will cure all kinds of Stomach, Kidney, and Bowel trouble and Indigestion. It will cure Rheumatism, will Dissolve and Remove Gall Stones and Gravel from the Bladder and is a Sure Cure for Malaria.”
The well put the town on the map and the post office agreed to set up a branch there in 1909. But the town had to change its name. There was already a community named Latania in Rapides Parish. The obvious alternate was Krotz Springs.
Also in 1909, C.W. formed the Krotz Springs Mineral Water Company Limited, and began to seriously market the community and its healthy waters. An early advertisement urges: “Buy Lots in Krotz Springs, The Coming Health Resort of the South.”
C.W. had been bottling the water for some years when, in 1915, he and two partners, decided to expand the operation. They were “all hustling business men of ability and good judgment,” according to the St. Landry Clarion,
They formed the Standard Water Company, and planned to build a plant to carbonate the spring water, another one to make the bottles for it, and another one to use wood sawed at Krotz’s mill to make crates for the bottles. The Clarion predicted the combined operations would “quickly build up a little city at Krotz Springs.”
Krotz began to lobby for the railroad to come through his little town. Railroad officials finally agreed “after a thorough investigation of … the mineral water from the well and the future prospect of a mineral water resort town.” He must have done a good sales job; for a number of years Krotz’s bottled water was served on railroad cars
The Clarion predicted, “With sufficient funds to promote the town … with its mineral water well, and with Mr. Krotz at the head of the company, in a short time … the mineral well and town will develop into a fine paying proposition for the promoter and investors.”
But what nature gives, nature can take away. In those days before levees, the Atchafalaya River went pretty much where it wanted to go, and one day it decided it wanted to flow across the top of Krotz’s spring. It still does. The original well site is right about in the middle of the river.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, "Cajuns and Other Characters," is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.