The History of Otsego, NY 
Richfield Springs

By Holice and Debbie



Richfield Springs

For unknown ages previous to the commencement of the present century, the quiet interval that is now occupied by the pleasant village of Richfield Springs was hidden far from the face of civilization, and known only to the sons of the forest as a resort for the use of the "medicine waters" that their faith applied to all the ills of their numerous tribes. At the summit of a gently rising eminence, in the midst of shrubbery, and overshadowed by the lofty and majestic branches of the fir and pine, there issued forth from beneath of roots of a gigantic tree a crystal mineral fountain of life and health. About three hundred rods to the south of this fountain was a romantic and beautiful lake silently sleeping in a quiet valley skirted on either side by heavily-wooded Alpine ranges, whose giant forest-trees were boldly reflected in the deep-blue waters that were disturbed only by the screaming waterfowl or the light canoe of the red man as he glided swiftly over its silvery surface. The elk, moose, and timid deer drank from its silent waters in the wild solitude of the primeval forest. Two wood-covered islands rested within the bosom of this picturesque lake, one of which as since disappeared,and, as tradition says, ‘the last of a once powerful tribe, the Canadaragos, sank with it far beneath its dark waters."

The following Indian tradition in relation to this island has been handed down to us: "A famous healing Indian prophet once dwelt upon a beautiful island, in the midst of Canadarago Lake, to whom invalids from all the Iroquois used to come and leave their maladies. At midnight he would glide softly away in his canoe, penetrate the dark forest to the fountains, and then return to his patients with vessels full of the magic waters.

"By his great success he became proud and powerful; and at last he called himself he twin brother of the Great Spirit. This blasphemy kindled the anger of the Almighty, and it consumed the boaster. One morning, when a bridal party went thither to receive the prophet’s blessing, the island has disappeared. The Great Spirit in his wrath had thrust it with the proud prophet so deep into the earth that the waters of the lake where it stood are unfathomable by human measurement."

The following beautiful lines of this legend were written by Ethel Lynn:


O'er Canadarago the shadows creep,
Dreams of her silent summer sleep;
Yon pictured hill, a blue-veined lid,
Curtains the brightness beneath it hid;
The toying trees of the willow swings,
And the tasseled birch guerdon flings,
Till the wave wakes up from its revery,
And, Indian-like, laughs silently.

In-shore the tall flags moveless stand,
With lances straight like warder band,
To guard the lily’s jeweled cup,
Whose golden wine the wave bears up;
But guards in vain: the robber bee
Drinks and away, humming merrily;
And the dragon-fly waves its wing of light
Into the sunshine and out of sight.

But just where the mountain shadows break
Lies the sunken isle of the laughing lake,
Where the soft, green rushes idly away,
And the fisher’s boat is seen always,
As the angler peers through the limpid wave
For a glimpse of the island’s lonely grave,
With its crown of flowers and belt of wood.

For Canadarago a legend keeps,
To be whispered low when the midnight creeps
Moonless and still on the lonely shore,
A tale of the lost for evermore.
Far back in the land of the Long Ago,
Stood an island fair in the summer glow,
Where ever alone a prophet dwelt,
For whose healing touch the suffering knelt.

Thither the Mohawk warrior came,
With the wound from poison-dart aflame;
And the Iroquois, with his war-won pain,
Sought at his hand for health again.
Savage of mien and dark of mood,
As well became his Indian blood;
Sullen and stern, none ever guessed
The secrets locked in his dusky breast;

Know not how oft in the swift canoe
The shivered waves from the paddles flow,
As close by the dim, deep forest stayed,
The prophet’s foot in the darkness stayed,
Till close by the bitter fountain’s brink
He stopped at last, yet not to drink;
But bore from thence the wondrous draught,
The source and secret of his craft.

At last, the olden legend saith,
He claimed the power to conquer Death,
And spoke in horrid blasphemy
Of twinship with divinity;
Then the Great Spirit’s awful frown
Sent island and prophet hurtling down;
And wondering pilgrims to that shore
Saw isle or prophet nevermore.

The Sunken Island!—Ah, ‘twere well
If only legends wild could tell
The tale. On Life’s broad sea
Such things as these often be;
Bright spots that softly shine and gleam,
Fair as a sinless angel’s dream;
And yet they sink—and all but we
Go floating on right merrily.

So each alone his secret keeps,
Where his lost vision bides and sleeps;
Sails bravely on and makes no moan,
Over the airy landscape gone,
Yet glancing where the rushes grow,
Bent by the breath of the Long Ago,
He says no word, but dreams the while
Of the unforgotten Sunken Isle.

Who can tell the number of years that have passed away since this beautiful lake was first called in being, or how many cloudless nights have the moon and the stars been mirrored in its placid depths? More than three-fourths of a century has passed away since the first settlers were attracted to this locality as permanent residents. With the discovery of the mineral springs, and their preparation for public use by Dr., Horace Manley in 1820, this village dates its birth as a watering-place. The efficacy of these waters was soon found to be remarkably potent in the treatment of many forms of disease, and with every returning season from the above date the number of visitors to the place was gradually augmented. The value of real estate slowly enhanced from year to year, and by 1830 Richfield Springs became the centre of an extensive local trade.

As stated above, the mineral springs were discovered by Dr. Manley in1820. In that year he bought an ace of land, embracing what is now the Manley Spring, on the grounds of the grounds of the Spring House, for which he paid seventy-five dollars, and erected a dwelling for his family. He proceeded at once to prepare the spring for public use.

At this time the only place for accommodation of visitors was the Richfield Hotel, where but few guests could be received. Directly over the spring stood a large pine-tree, from beneath which the water issued profusely, covering the ground for some distance around with a thick white coating of tufaceous deposit. The tree and earth were removed to the depth of five feet, when the water was found to issue from the deep crevice of a large flat rock, that now forms its bed. On this rock was found the body of a large tree, still sound and perfect; also the antler of an elk, with its points ground off. The doctor thinks it had been used by the Indians for a war-club. It was presented to Prof. Mitchell, of Columbia College, New York. He also found ripe red plums, and fresh-looking green leaves, that soon turned black and fell to pieces on exposure to the air. The writer asked the doctor how long he thought these plums and leaves had been there; he answered, "Thousands of years, no doubt," a five feet of earth and decomposed vegetation had accumulated over them without human agency. This sulpher spring now began to attract public attention, but the duties of his profession requiring his entire attention, the doctor sold the property, including the spring to a Mr. Chase, and purchased the land now occupied by him, a short distance to the east of the spring, on the south side of Main street, where he resides in the enjoyment of a well-earned competence. Dr. Manley has three sons and four daughters now living.

A laughable incident occurred while the doctor was engaged in excavating the spring. His workmen had suspended a white handkerchief to a pole by the roadside to indicate the location of the spring in the forest. A countryman on horseback, approaching from the west, seeing this supposed signal of smallpox, attempted to pass the designated spot by galloping his horse at full speed, at the same time holding his nose and mouth firmly with one hand; but when directly opposite the spring he involuntarily caught a breath of air that was strongly impregnated with the fumes of the sulphur water. Suddenly checking his horse, he exclaimed, with an expression of the deepest despair, "Oh, God, I’ve catched it!"

Seventeen distinct mineral springs are now known in this place and immediate vicinity, most of them containing sulphur, but varying to some extent in their constituent elements. Two of these springs only have been analyzed, viz., the Manley Spring, on the grounds of the Spring House, and the American Spring, in the basement of the American Hotel, and are known to be the strongest sulphur waters on the American continent. The following is an analysis of these waters by Prof. Reid:

Bicarbonate magnesia per gallon 20 grains.
Bicarbonate Lime 10 "
Chloride sodium and magnesia 15 "
Sulphate magnesia 30 "
Hydrosulfate magnesia and lime 2 "
Sulphate of lime 20 "
Solid matter 152.5
Sulphurated hydrogen gas 20.6 inches

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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