Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Shangri-La Springs: Haven for Health

Florida has at least 1,000 artesian springs and my new book, Florida's Healing Waters, documents twenty-two spas that were built adjacent to mineral springs during the Gilded Age. They range from places so popular that entire towns developed around the facilities, such as Green Cove and White Springs, to others so ephemeral that the only evidence they ever existed is in the travel literature of the time, such as Moncrief Spring near Jacksonville. It is also likely that many springs were used for therapeutic bathing by locals, but never commercially developed. And some facilities were enhanced with the addition of water from artesian wells, or "pseudo springs." 
Most of these spring-based spas tended to be in the northern part of Florida where there is a higher concentration of springs. A handful existed in Central Florida, but one of the few that was built in South Florida was the spa at Shangri-La Springs in Lee County. 
The spa originated when Harvie E. Heitman, a prolific businessman and early developer of Southwest Florida’s Lee County, and his brother built Bonita Springs’ Heitman Hotel in 1921 as a built as a place for potential real estate investors to stay. The town of Bonita Springs is said to be named for a sulphur spring on the hotel grounds (the town was previously known by the unremarkable name, Survey.) It is claimed that the spring was sacred to the Calusa Indians who lived in the area hundreds of years ago.
Heitman died in 1922 and the hotel endured several owners and multiple name changes until osteopath Dr. Charles Gnau bought the property in 1962. It was Gnau who saw the potential of the resort as a place of healing centered around the spring. Gnau believed the water of the spring “compared favorably” to the famed waters of the Baden-Baden Spring in Germany. He was ahead of his time, advocating for a holistic approach to health, including eating organic produce and exercising regularly. Gnau built a spring-fed pool with an Indian maiden statue to the property. The next owner, Dr. R.J. Cheatham renamed the resort the Shangri-La Hotel and developed it into an institute of hygiene.

Today the Shangri-La Springs resort is operated as a day spa, hotel, and restaurant, offering locally grown organic food and a variety of spa treatments including massage, reiki, saunas, reflexology, and aromatherapy.

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