It is said that in 1789, while Unity was still part of Cheshire County, a certain Benjamin Teal discovered medicinal properties from a series of sources in the eastern part of Unity. Teal suffered from kidney stones and claimed he was cured after drinking in East Unity Springs.
Word of the springs spread quickly and many people flocked there to enjoy the water. A man from Springfield, VT, came in with a terrible poison ivy rash that he developed during the hay season of 1837. He was so swollen that people did not recognize him . He stayed on a nearby farm and used the spring water for three weeks. At the end of this period, he was healed and attributed his recovery to water.
The farmer who owned the land was soon so annoyed by the endless flow of visitors that he offered the property for sale. The sources have been sold and opened to the public. By the 1870s, a large resort hotel had been built on the site. Visitors from remote towns traveled by train to Newport, then took a short carriage ride to the hotel. The operation was known as Unitoga Springs.
In the 1880s, Unitoga House was a thriving 60-room hotel operated by Mr. AP Wellcome, an apt name for a hotel owner. Streams of summer visitors have left the heat of the city to spend time in the cool woods of Unity. The Unitoga House offered hiking, trout fishing, bowling, billiards and dancing in the lodge. In addition, Mr. Wellcome’s advertisement included numerous testimonials regarding the healing power of the waters. Visitors were said to have been cured of liver and kidney disease, chronic skin conditions, asthma, bronchitis and, of course, poison ivy. The water was also bottled and sold in pharmacies.
The rise of Lake Sunapee as a resort area reduced activity in Unitoga Springs and reported mismanagement of the springs led to a further decline in activity in the late 1880s. By the end of 1892, a lantern was accidentally knocked over in the barn and the hotel burned down. Today, there is little evidence of the famous seaside resort that flourished in East Unity 135 years ago.
Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the area since 1927. It is on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.