Excelsior Spring has the World’s Longest Water Bar and it’s Dry

Photography by Jeremey Theron Kirby

Even though the Hall of Waters is dry, you can still visit the impressive art deco structure that once housed the “world’s longest water bar.”

What is a water bar, you ask? At the Hall of Waters, it’s a long counter—similar to what you might find at a diner—with built-in spigots directly connected to the city’s many natural underground springs.

Since the 1800s, settlers in the area now known as Excelsior Springs have been unearthing natural springs and lauding their medicinal powers. A farmer in 1800 who is said to have discovered the first natural spring claimed the waters healed his daughter of tuberculosis. As word spread and more springs were discovered, people began traveling to Excelsior seeking out the purported restorative and healing properties of the waters. Every illness from measles and polio to anxiety and depression was said to benefit from a dip in or drink of the waters bubbling up to the surface.

Built in 1937, the Hall of Waters is a five-level reinforced concrete T-shaped building that features a decorative boiler stack tower with cast stone and an aluminum cap thirty feet high on the outside. The distinctively art deco structure, built with the help of funds from the Works Project Administration, was constructed to collect the water from the area’s underground waterways in one spot for visitors. Although it looks impressive on the outside, it’s the inside and main hall that truly shines.

At the height of its popularity, ten of the city’s natural springs were redirected to the building’s water bar for visitors to sample. On tap were such varieties as calcium water, saline water, and iron manganese water.

Those seeking a cure for what ailed them were not only able to drink spring water in the building but also swim in an indoor championship pool.

“One of the greatest features [was] the chandeliers in the water bar area,” says Betty Bissell, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and manager of the Hall of Waters Visitor Center. “They are original to the 1936 construction of the building.”

The building eventually became known as the aquatic healing center and operated until 2006, when operations finally shut down.

The hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as a visitor center and museum.

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