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The area constituting Eaton Rapids was first settled by pioneers around the year 1835, mainly for the timber and water power in the area. The following year, a sawmill was constructed near Spring Brook in Spicerville that would provide the lumber used to start Eaton Rapids. In 1837, the Old Red Mill was constructed by the mill company and used the power from the stream to grind corn. The mill company later used wood from Spicerville to construct their own sawmill along the Grand River, as well as a wool carding mill.
Eaton Rapids’ most memorable claim to fame in its early years involved curative waters and mineral baths, due to the unique magnetic mineral springs discovered by E. B. Frost in 1852. Eventually there were 14 mineral wells around town. One still exists at Smithville Dam. For decades, Eaton Rapids was one of several cities known as the “Saratoga of the West”, with wealthy health-seekers from all over the nation staying at the city’s luxury hotels and partaking in over a dozen mineral wells. At its peak, six passenger trains per day carted tourists to the new and thriving Michigan city.
Built in 1874, the Anderson House was the largest and most lavish of the hotels catering to the many visitors who came to Eaton Rapids for “water-cure” treatment. The mineral water and bath industry began with the discovery of springs in 1869, and advertisements boasting of the miraculous healing powers of the water led to the town’s billing as the “Saratoga of the West.“ The water was also bottled and shipped across the country. The resort heyday was over by 1890, and the burning of the Anderson House in 1911 dealt it a death blow, although one establishment operated until 1971 as a mineral water resort.