There must have been something in the water

Published 4:39 pm Thursday, July 8, 2021

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During the latter half of the 19th Century, one of the most popular spots in the countryside surrounding Washington was a rustic place known as the “Cowhead” or Cowhead Springs. According to an article in The Washington Gazette in 1889, “… Washington’s famous health-giving sulfur spring is known commonly by the uncouth name of “cowhead.” The title originates from the fact that when it was first discovered, the head and horns of a mammoth bovine were found nearby.” The article continues, “…this stream of water bursts forth clear as crystal and in inexhaustible quantities.”

One of the earliest references to the spring that I could find was an 1869 announcement of a gathering of like-minded people celebrating apparent political success. Many sources spoke of the locale as the perfect spot for “beau and belle” to spend some romantic time together. Legend told that a visitor to town would always return once taken to Cowhead Springs to drink that water. Consequently, young men were said to lure popular visiting girls into drinking from the Cowhead.

The water was famous as an elixir. Enterprising folk would bring this spring water into town in barrels and sell it. It was a custom on Sunday afternoon to ride out in a horse and buggy with large containers and take home a week’s supply of the spring water. It was considered an excellent pick-me-up. It contained a brown residue that was thought to be iron. It was regularly shaken up before drinking to be sure you got your minerals. The Tayloe Drug Store in 1892 boasted that their fountain drinks benefited from the addition of the Cowhead spring water.

The location was so popular that the Cowhead Mineral Springs Company was formed in 1907 to develop a year-round resort sanitarium or spa. There was even a plan to extend the ill-fated Washington trolley line from downtown Washington to the spring. The Washington trolley line was never completed, but that’s a story for another time.

Where was this delightful watering hole? Running just north of the Washington-Warren Field Airport, north of town is Springs Road. It is so named because it led to the Cowhead Springs. Approximately 1 mile from the end of Runway 35, you can find the spring. It is now abandoned with little evidence that the once-popular retreat ever existed.


Ray Midgett is a Washington resident and the president of the Historic Port of Washington Project.