Varuna Park: The God of Waters

While Magnetic Springs was famous for it’s healing mineral water, Richwood was no stranger to these discoveries. Mineral water was thought to provide many benefits. By the 19th century, thermal resorts had become fashionable destinations for those who wished to bathe and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of mineral water. Many hoped to find miracle cures for their ailments.

The C.D. Sidle farm in Richwood was located slightly west of the fairgrounds. In 1899, the Richwood Oil, Gas, and Mineral Company, of which a man named J.L. Horn was president, awarded a contract to an experienced driller from Lima, Ohio for the drilling of two test oil wells on the land of Mr. Sidle. Under the terms of the agreement, the contract price for the drilling of the first well was 95 cents per foot until the hole was 100 feet provided oil or gas was not found. If none was discovered, the drilling would continue until the company wishes to stop and the contractor would be paid $1.25 for each foot drilled. While oil or gas was never found, something else entirely was discovered.

On September 19, 1899, the oil well reached a depth of 1652 feet when a vein of mineral water was struck. Dr. L.L. Roebuck was sent to Columbus with a sample of the water to have it analyzed. He went directly to Curtis C. Howard who was a professor of chemistry at the Starling Medical College. Howard said the water was strongly charged with minerals and began analyzing it straight away. Although quite a number of people were disappointed that no oil was found, the board of directors admitted that if it is indeed mineral water, it would be worth more money than an oil or gas well. A few days after the drilling, the water raised in the well to a depth of 1200 feet and it may have eventually overflowed.

At the oil drilling meeting held at the mayor’s office on the 26th of September, 1899, a large list of shareholders were present and it was decided to drill another well. The shareholders were required to pay in the last half of their assessment no later than Oct. 7 of that year. As soon as sufficient funds were raised, a contract would be made for the drilling of the second well. The analysis of the water had not yet been received by Prof. Howard at the time. However, in a letter that the professor wrote to Dr. Roebuck a few days prior, he mentioned that the water contained valuable medicinal properties and requested that the doctor wait until a thorough chemical test could be made.

A few days later, the results had finally arrived of a thorough quantitative analysis of the water from Richwood’s abandoned oil well. He submitted the result of his investigations to the directors of the Richwood Oil, Gas, and Mineral Company in the following letter:

GENTLEMEN : - The sample of deep well water received from you gives on analysis the following figures:
Sodium Sulphate.................................................145.2
Sodium Chloride................................................1465.1
Calcium Chloride.................................................80.6
Calcium Bicarbonate..............................................77.3
Magnesium Bicarbonate............................................80.9
Aluminum Sulphate................................................21.6
Sulphuretted Hydrogen..............................24.3 cubic inches.
                       Yours Truly,
                               Curtis C. Howard

In transmitting his report, Professor Howard said: “The water contains a considerable amount of sodium chloride present. The calcium chloride is also considerable and the aluminum sulphate is unusually high. The water certainly possesses a sufficiently large amount of mineral constituents to entitle it to be called mineral water.” Professor Howard’s area of expertise was of course to simply determine the chemical composition of the water and it was not a part of his duty to express an opinion as to its medical value. The proportion of sulphuretted hydrogen in this water, as compared with other sulpher waters, is shown in the following table:

Sulphuretted hydrogen gas in cubic inches per U.S. gal.
Weilbach Well, Germany............................................1.161
Cave Well, Chittenago, N.Y........................................2.754
White Sulphur Well, Chittenago, N.Y...............................0.884
Florida Well, Montgomery Co., N.Y.................................3.765
Odevene Spring, Delaware, Ohio....................................2.924
Richwood Well, Richwood, Ohio......................................24.3

The Odevene spring of Delaware is still located on Ohio Wesleyan University’s campus. The sulphur spring well, which has since dried up, has been turned into a well-known gathering spot for students and faculty. The well only contained 2.9 cubic inches of sulphuretted hydrogen per gallon, while the water from the Richwood well contained over eight times as much of this gas, which was one of its most valuable properties.

In October of 1899, the drilling commenced on the second well on William Biddle’s farm located near the first well west of Richwood. As expected, it too proved to be a “dry” hole after drilling 1500 feet and was promptly abandoned. Mr. and Mrs. Biddle entertained the four men on the drilling crew at their home when the drilling was complete. Three of the men were Welsh along with Mrs. Biddle who was of Welsh parentage. The evening was spent in the singing of Welsh songs with Mr. Jones, captain of the drilling crew, acting as pianist. Oysters and other refreshments were served.

A picture of a picnic gathering at Varuna Park circa 1910.

In December, the Richwood, Oil, Gas and Mineral Company met at the mayor’s office once more and it was decided to organize a stock company for the development of well number 1 on the Sidle farm and put the mineral water on the market. The company was capitalized in the sum of $10,000 and the stock was sold to the members of the Richwood OGM Co. for $10 each as long as any member of the old company wished to do so. After which, it was offered to the rest of the public.

On December 18, 1899, the Varuna Water Company filed their articles of incorporation to the Ohio Secretary of State and began to develop well no. 1 of the old Richwood Oil, Gas, and Mineral Company. The water was named “Varuna” which is a Sanskrit word meaning “the God of Waters.” On December 28, 1899, the stockholders of Varuna Water Company met at the private office of the Deposit Bank in Richwood. After some time, a committee consisting of J.B. Miller, J.M. Wilkins, and George W. Worden was appointed to draft the by-laws and constitution. After they were met with approval, the following list of officers were elected: J.L. Horn, president; J.M. Wilkins, vice president; W.H. Wagers, secretary; and Bent Cahill, treasurer.

The Varuna Water Company contracted with a Baltimore firm for a bottling machine which was placed in the building constructed on the land purchased from C.D. Sidle. The Richwood Gazette published the following story: On February 12, 1900, the president of the Varuna Water Company, J.L. Horn, had opened an airtight lid to one of the big tanks filled with the water. Upon doing so, sulphonated hydrogen gas was so strong that it completely overcame him, and he stepped back from the tank and gently laid down on the floor. As he dropped, his hat fell to the first story of the building where his men were working and went upstairs to see what was wrong. They were surprised to see Mr. Horn lying on the floor sleeping as sweetly as a baby. They attempted to awake him, but it was about five minutes before they could do so. When he finally came to, he said he felt as though he had been chloroformed and that he believed he would have slept longer had he been left alone.1Richwood Gazette, Feb. 22, 1900.

Varuna water began to sell at the stores of J.L. Horn and Isaac Miller in Richwood. The bottles were sold for 25 cents per gallon. Anyone with stomach, liver, or kidney pain was suggested to try the water. An advertisement in the Richwood Gazette suggested that “If you have that tired feeling and don’t enjoy your food, try Varuna mineral water. It will sharpen up your appetite and make a new man of you.”2Richwood Gazette, March 1, 1900.

A large advertisement which appeared in the Richwood Gazette on Apr. 5, 1900, featuring testimonials and a chemical analysis of the water.

On April 17, 1900, the Varuna Water Company made a big shipment of mineral water to their agent, J.W. Thew, at Marion. It was later said that J.B. Miller made arrangements to sell the water in Columbus.

The Richwood Gazette, in their paper on April 19, 1900, claimed that Austin Rose, of west Ottawa St., was surprised to find a full-grown opossum sunning himself on his front porch. Mr. Rose captured it alive and expected to keep it until next summer and then turn it over to the Varuna Water Company for their zoological garden. This was the only mention of such a garden which may or may not have existed.

In June of 1900, the Varuna Water Company began carbonating the water to make it more pleasant and less “nauseating as it was in its natural state.” The carbonating claimed to not destroy its rare medical properties but instead “keeps it pure and makes it sparkle like champagne.”3Richwood Gazette, June 7, 1900.

An unknown family enjoying a picnic at Varuna Park circa 1910.

In September 1900, J.L. Horn sold the company over to Isaac Miller. Mr. Miller began extensive improvements, one of which was the creation of a modern bath house. Varuna Park, including the bath house, opened as a pleasure resort at the end of May 1901. The bath house included eight bath rooms, with male and female attendants. Wooden tubs were used for those desiring baths in Varuna well no. 1 since it was claimed that no other material should be used on account of the properties of the water. In the rooms used by well no. 2, porcelain tubs were used. The park itself was fitted with seats, swings and merry-go-rounds. Refreshments were also served on the grounds. It was reported that over 800 people visited the park on its opening day on May 19, 1901.

In June, Mr. Miller began making arrangements to give band concerts at the park every Sunday afternoon during the summer months beginning on June 29 when Prof. Arens, of LaRue, assisted by the LaRue Cornet Band, opened the season. The public was invited to enjoy the “cool and sparkling mineral water to their hearts’ content.”4Richwood Gazette, June 27, 1901. No admission to the park was charged.

A new 40-horsepower boiler was purchased for the water plant in July after the old boiler let loose one Sunday morning and blew out one of the heads. Nobody was in the engine room at the time and Mr. Miller was glad that no one was around when the boiler gave out.

A photograph of Varuna Park, appearing on a postcard.

Varuna Park opened for the season on Saturday, June 7, 1902, in the form of a gala day. At 10 o’clock a.m. a grand parade took place in which 100 men on horseback, representing different nationalities, escorted by two brass bands, traversed along the streets of town, and arrived at the park by 11 o’clock. Professional Perry, the high wire wonder, who was famous for juggling, dancing, and riding a bicycle across an ordinary steel wire in midair, was present. Charles G. Parker and “Stump,” his educated dog, was also on the grounds. “Stump” climbed a 50-foot ladder and jumped to a net below. This was purported to have been the highest jump ever made by a trained dog at the time. The two brass bands continued to provide music throughout the day. At 3 o’clock, the attractions at the park were moved to Franklin Street in Richwood where programs were rendered during the evening. All jugs and bottles brought by guests were filled with Varuna water, free of charge. Arrangements were made where anyone could secure excursion rates from any point on the Erie railroad.

In November of 1903, Isaac Miller was forced to declare bankruptcy. His liabilities were about $24,000 with assets of about $10,000. He came to Richwood in 1880 and actively engaged in many businesses. He conducted a successful business and owned considerable real estate up until about three years before the bankruptcy, about the time he purchased Varuna Park and made an effort to improve the park and put Varuna water on the market. The sales of the plant since then were not what they should’ve been and the expenses were very heavy, thereby involving him to such an extent that he was forced to take out money from his other businesses just to keep Varuna Park going. The stock of merchandise formally owned by Mr. Miller was sold in a bankruptcy sale on December 29, 1903. His seventy-two shares of stock in the Varuna Water Co. were sold to Miller’s nephew from Cleveland.

Advertisement of the Richwood Fertilizer Co. appearing in the Richwood Gazette in 1917.

The land known as Varuna Park continued to be owned by Isaac Miller. On December 23, 1909, Mr. Miller sold ten acres off the south half of Varuna Park to H.H. Beaner who owned the Sidle farm adjoining the park grounds. On May 25, 1916, Mr. Miller sold the Varuna Park to D.C. and James Cushman of Richwood and Max Meyer of Columbus. They installed a fertilizer plant there named the Richwood Fertilizer Company. D.C. Cushman was manager of the establishment and had full charge of the business. A lawsuit was later brought to the company by a Dr. Bown. It was postponed indefinitely on account of the owners agreeing to cease operations of the plant by April 1, 1918. The suit was brought on to prevent the draining of wastewater from the plant into Fulton Creek and to stop the offensive odors.

Varuna Park had continued to be used as a gathering place for the citizens of Richwood. Many picnics and public sales were still being held on the grounds. The Park was used until at least the 1930s. After that time, all mention of Varuna Park ceased, and both the park and the mineral water had faded into obscurity.


  • 1
    Richwood Gazette, Feb. 22, 1900.
  • 2
    Richwood Gazette, March 1, 1900.
  • 3
    Richwood Gazette, June 7, 1900.
  • 4
    Richwood Gazette, June 27, 1901.

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