During the late 19th century, Sedalia mounted several schemes to use mineral resources to make large amounts of money.
With alarming regularity, promoters persuaded individuals to invest in attempts to develop profitable coal mines near Sedalia. These mines failed, for the coal deposits in Pettis County, while they might provide enough coal for a family or a small group of families, were not rich enough to be commercially successful. Lead deposits were also exploited and touted as a means by which people could become rich. The lead mining schemes were equally unsuccessful as commercial ventures.
In the 1890s, yet another scheme surfaced. At that time, the healing properties of mineral water led to the popularity of resorts where people would go for rest and to “take the waters,” drinking or bathing in water containing sodium lithium or other mineral compounds. Several Missouri cities, such as Eldorado Springs and Excelsior Springs, had natural springs that drew tourists and tourist dollars. Other towns, such as Appleton City, had Artesian wells that provided a steady supply of mineral water.
In 1895, the Sedalia Democrat announced that Sedalia was also to have an Artesian well. The location was in the lowest basin of Forest Park, near the end of the street car lines that ran south out of Sedalia. Several “geological experts” had investigated the area and determined the water could be found at less than 1,000 feet.
Promoters hired Sedalian W. B. Martin to drill an eight-inch shaft a depth of 1,000 feet at a cost of $200 per foot. Martin was to be paid in increments as the work was performed. The contract contained a clause negating the contract if $2,000 was not raised by Feb. 15. The promoters also arranged an option to buy all land owned by the Electric Railway for $150 per acre. This option would expire 90 days after the well was drilled.
By Feb. 3, six stockholders invested money in the scheme. Shares cost $100 each. A.W. Winzenburg purchased five shares; W. H. Powell, Jr., purchased two shares; and F. W. Schultz, Louis Hoffman, John Dalby, and Charles Carroll each purchased one share. The men had $1,100, or $900 less than the well was to cost.
To encourage others to purchase stock, the Democrat suggested that Sedalia might be as successful as other cities. The press mentioned both Clinton and Nevada, Missouri, both of which had drilled Artesian wells and created economically successful tourist resorts. The Democrat held even more hope for quick riches to investors when it intimated that oil or gas might be discovered. It reminded readers that eastern investors in Montgomery and other counties in Kansas struck an “inexhaustible reservoir of natural gas.”
Whether the well was a success or not, the investors planned to expand the basin at Forest Park in order to create a lake for boating and swimming. By finishing the lake before spring, the Democrat promised, Forest Park would become “a water resort equal to any in Missouri.”