(from the Fall 2015 issue of Macomb Now Magazine)
By Denis LeDuc
“Step right in, ma’am! Is the water a touch too hot for you? Sure it’s dark and heavy, but nobody never drowned in this water. You’re gonna float like a cork. And sure, the smell takes some getting’ used to. Them’s the minerals that’ll heal your aches. Just relax, ma’am. Welcome to Mount Clemens, Bath City, U.S.A.”
So might have gone the patter of one of the Clementine Hotel bath attendants pictured above. Known as rubbers, the attendants massaged every ache and pain in a patron’s body in the great bathhouses that populated “Bath City, U.S.A.” The curative springs were legendary, but in the early 19th century, no one in Mount Clemens knew how to harness them. It was not until 1873 that the first bathhouse and hotel – appropriately named “The Original” – was built. But by the city’s heyday in the roaring ‘20s, there were more than 40 hotels, 11 bathhouses and innumerable boarding houses.
On her postcard home, guest Julia Miller wrote. “There is nothing anywhere in the world to equal the curative power of these mineral waters.” “I am feeling much better,” another patron wrote. “My lameness is about gone. Just a little stiff.”
Some businessmen were so impressed that they stayed and invested in Mount Clemens growing mineral bath industry. The famous came. The infamous came. Everyone came. Mae West, Al Joson, Alice Roosevelt, Henry Ford, John Philip Sousa, and George M. Cohan. Members of Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang were often seen playing cards and billiards in the hotels. More than 50,000 visitors patronized Bath City in the summer of 1927.
As it became a resort town, Mount Clemens developed a tolerant atmosphere. Vices were overlooked. Prohibition –era blind pigs and speakeasies lined blocks. Gambling and even prostitution flourished. The opulent Park Hotel openly built a gambling casino next door, and the most prominent madam in the city, beautifully turned out, toured town with her open car and female chauffeur.
But the stock market crashed. Prohibition ended with the passage of the 21st Amendment. The Great Depression and World War 11 followed. In times of scarcity and turmoil, the grand hotels and bathhouses fell into disrepair. Some burned down and many were razed in urban renewal campaigns. The great Bath City dimmed, the fell dark. A magnificent, tumultuous era had come to an end.
Photo courtesy of the Mount Clemens Library Historical Collection.