Historic photo courtesy Crazy Water Plaza / current by Gene Fowler
Several years ago, Kelly North was living in the Dallas area when she fell under the spell of Mineral Wells. She “stumbled across” the town, located about an hour west of Fort Worth, when she set out on an adventure to gather information for her blog, Texas Tales, Trails, and Rails. It was one of the first stops on her inaugural weekend trek—only something was missing.
“I was disappointed, but not wholly surprised, that the Bimini Bath House I was looking for was gone,” she says. “I had seen it in Ray Miller’s Eyes of Texas series and hoped it was still standing.”
Sadly, much of what put Mineral Wells on the map no longer exists. But that’s changing, as old and newer residents like North contribute to the town’s rebirth, which includes the reopening of one of its historic downtown hotels, the Crazy Water.
Also known as the Crazy Hotel, the inn with the curious name turns 95 on Friday, having opened on March 11, 1927, with an immense banquet on the ground floor pavilion, an 11-piece orchestra, vaudeville acts, and dancing in the rooftop ballroom. Last fall, the Spanish Colonial Revival hostelry reopened to travelers as Crazy Water Plaza, a sleek boutique hotel that retains its vintage flair.
Mineral Wells folks are reclaiming their crazy legacy all over town, recalling the days when the town nestled in a valley of the Palo Pinto hills offered a Crazy Theatre, Crazy Laundry, Crazy Drugstore, Crazy Beauty Shop, and more. The “Welcome to Mineral Wells, the Home of Crazy” sign spanning US 180 (the Bankhead Highway) was reconstructed in 2020. And visitors can still guzzle Crazy Water by the gallon, evoking the era when Mineral Wells was known as the spot “Where America Drinks Its Way to Health.”
An account of how the town went “crazy” can be found in the 1935 book Geology of Palo Pinto County, Texas. “In 1884, Dr. C.F. Yeager, pioneer physician of Mineral Wells, had a patient who was suffering from mental disorders,” it reads. “She used to sit…near one of the original wells and drink the water.” Children began calling her “the crazy woman” and her fountain of health “the crazy well.” As her condition improved, the natural elixir became “Crazy Water.” The fact that the water drawn from many wells in town contains lithium suggests that the legend may be legit.
A frontier drinking pavilion arose at the Crazy Well, followed by the grand Crazy Hotel in 1915. When it burned in 1925, Dallas insurance magnate and devout Crazy Water drinker Carr P. Collins erected the current building. In recent decades, the hotel served as a retirement home. It closed around 2012.
The hotel’s transformation began a few years ago when Randy and Misty Nix returned to Mineral Wells, and the couple’s real estate company started breathing new life into the town’s building environment.
I met Cody Jordan, the real estate company’s CEO for commercial properties, when I visited Crazy Water Plaza’s new Crazy Coffee and Water Bar. She told me the Nixes invested in some 50 properties around the historic downtown, and they’re working with others to fix them up and open lively new businesses. As the local Rotary Club says, “the Nixes have led the Mineral Wells transformation and resurrection.”
Along with the Nixes, 88 townspeople have invested in the Crazy Water Plaza’s rebirth, which blends modern amenities and furnishings with an old-timey atmosphere. The seven-story hotel features 37 rooms that can be booked through the hotel’s website or Airbnb and range in price from $119 for a weeknight to $423 for a hospitality suite. All but two offer full kitchens. If guests are so enticed by the town, the hotel also features 20 apartments, nine of which were still available when I stayed there in mid-February.
The hotel’s nine retail businesses include a salon, shoe store, boutiques, and soon Rickhouse Brewing, a brewpub that will be having its grand opening April 1. The Crazy Coffee and Water Bar is located in the original 1927 bar designed in a semi-Moorish style. It’s operated by Scott and Carol Elder, the owners of the Crazy Water Company headquartered two blocks from the hotel in the historic Famous Water pavilion. At their coffee and water bar, guests can sip their bottled Crazy Water and choose from a menu of exotic cups of joe that rival Starbucks—all made with mineralized bubbly.
Texas Tales, Trails, and Rails blogger Kelly North now lives and works in town (she has a job working remotely in the insurance industry). Since her arrival, North has become a go-to source for local history, having become intrigued by the Bimini’s long-gone location.
North wanted her blog post to include the long-gone pavilions and bathhouses, but their locations presented a mystery. She met with Bud Garrett of the local historical association and studied the old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps available online. “I learned that the whole landscape of Mineral Wells for several decades was covered with these bathhouses and water pavilions and with boarding houses to support the many tourists who came to ‘take the waters,’” she says. “I also discovered the many leisure activities that entertained health seekers—donkey rides, bowling alleys, dance floors, skating rinks, swimming pools, outdoor vaudeville, and silent film theaters—and the dinky cars that would drive folks up to Lake Pinto for boat rides.”
With her research, North created a map of city history with over 70 points of interest. Today, when North’s friends come to town for a visit, she simply tells them to ask for “Krazy Kelly” at the Crazy.
I met with Krazy Kelly at the Crazy Coffee and Water Bar, along with Stacy and Lori Blackburn, a couple who runs the popular Facebook group called Remember When in Mineral Wells. They also collect Mineral Wells artifacts including vintage mineral water bottles, brochures, booklets, advertising ephemera, promotional items, hotel ashtrays, matchboxes, photographs, menus, and boxes that once held Crazy Water and other company crystals—the residue left by evaporating the water that consumers would then mix with home tap water to make Crazy Water, Famous Water, and the like.
After I spent some time admiring the items that the Blackburns brought with them from their collection, Stacy led me outside to a parking lot that had once been the site of the Carlsbad Pavilion. He showed an area where there is still some flooring of the beautiful tile work that had been in one of the Carlsbad’s restrooms.
“I found this peeking out from under a layer of asphalt and got permission to scrape away the asphalt,” he says. The liberated tile makes a great metaphor for the reemergence and nurturing of Mineral Wells’ history through a form of community archeology. All over downtown, sublime traces of the resort’s colorful past await discovery and celebration.
According to Jordan, the commercial properties CEO, declining interest in mineral water traditions in the 1950s and the deactivation of the local military post, Fort Wolters, in 1975 led Mineral Wells to suffer economic downturns. “It got so bad that the town became known as Miserable Wells,” she says. “Today, with the revitalization of so many historic buildings and a renewal of community spirit, we’re heading for Miracle Wells.”
Someone else who could not be more excited is Tim Hopkins, the Mineral Wells-based architect who worked on the Crazy Water Plaza project. “Bringing the Crazy old lady into a new, glorious reincarnation presented many challenges,” he says. “But the pleasure of helping revitalize the history of the community I live in is indescribable, and for it to be in my hometown as well is an amazing privilege. It’s an architect’s dream of leaving a legacy.”
So far, banking on a revival of the town’s health and wellness traditions is working. The hotel is full most weekends, and its ground-floor pavilion and rooftop ballroom host an array of events.
Going forward, the new Crazy Water Plaza will include a restaurant and the restoration of the basement’s mineral water bathing therapies. Jordan, who notes that her background is in live theater, adds that the Nix company’s plans include the acquisition and restoration of the vintage Grand Theater across the street from the hotel, with the hope of offering live performances and film screenings. And the folks restoring Mineral Wells’ Baker Hotel anticipate its reopening in 2024. At 14 stories, the town’s other Spanish Colonial Revival beauty was built in 1929 and towers over the happy valley.
For now, folks are elated to see the Crazy—“the heartbeat of Mineral Wells”—sparkling with life. “We’ve had a lot of people visit whose grandparents were stationed at Fort Wolters and told them stories about the town,” Jordan says. “And others who were born in the hotel when part of it was a hospital. Some even got engaged here. It’s a joy to hear those stories.”
As the late Sidney Webb, owner of the first Crazy Hotel, oft remarked, “What Times Square is to New York, what State and Madison streets are to Chicago, and what the Alamo is to San Antonio, the Crazy Hotel is to Mineral Wells.”