The town of Clifton Springs is home to a natural sulphur spring and early native Americans highly regarded the mineral spring for its healing properties while regularly drinking and bathing in the natural water source. Later in the 19th-Century “Water Cures” became popular with the upper class, therapeutic baths, and spa-like treatments were routinely prescribed for conditions ranging for nervousness to long-term chronic diseases. It was during the Water Cure movement in 1850 when Dr. Henry Foster, after hearing stories of the healing springs in Upstate New York, established his own “Water Cure” which later became the Clifton Springs Sanitarium Co.
Treatment at the Clifton Springs Sanitarium Co. was multi-faceted, the mind and body were both treated for optimum healing. Dr. Foster believed good quality fresh food was crucial to sound health and well-being. To guarantee the best and freshest foods were provided for Sanitarium guests Dr. Foster bought a 100 acre farm just 1 mile north of the Sanitarium to produce as much as he could. Originally a marshy and under-performing farm, Dr. Foster immediately began making improvements in drainage and fertilization resulting in fertile farmland, and eventually expanded the farm to 300 acres.
Dr. Foster didn’t stop at soil improvements, the Clifton Springs Sanitarium farm was to become the most innovative operation of its time.
Ever the progressive thinker, Dr. Foster was quick to investigate and utilize new farming methods. Dr. Foster outfitted the Sanitarium farm with four silos, which at the time were, unheard of (the town historian tells me there was only one other in the state) many local residents at first ridiculed the new grain storage. Dr. Foster was also the first in the area to plant and grow alfalfa, which is not surprising when you consider Dr. Foster’s persistent quest for only the very best for his Sanitarium guests. We grow alfalfa hay on our farm and it is highly prized for its use as feed for high-producing dairy cows.
The Sanitarium Farm was a dairy at heart. At its peak, a herd of 225 dairy cows lived in the once pristine white-washed cow barn with dormers. Dr. Foster was very involved in the farm, he went to great lengths to learn about animal husbandry, and brought only the finest livestock to the farm. The sanitarium farm herd was mainly comprised of Holsteins and Guernseys, which kept the on-site creamery by the stream abundantly producing enough milk to meet the dairy needs of the sanitarium guests. In 1893, an impressed milk inspector reported “in every respect to the conditions, could not be improved”. The farm also supplied the sanitarium with fresh produce, meat, and eggs, keeping with Dr. Foster’s desire to provide “nothing but the best”.
As the Sanitarium slowly shifted to more of a medical facility, the need for the barn and farm diminished. Maintenance of the aging buildings and property became a concern and in 1949, the farm went up for auction. For a long period of time, the Everson brothers operated a successful dairy at the Sanitarium farm before it was sold again.
The large cow barn that was once the center of a lively farm operation was surrounded by many other out buildings. Now with the roof caving in, and sides bowing out, it is one of the few survivors of a once vibrant farm.
The derelict barn’s future teeters precariously. Agriculture has changed dramatically since the Sanitarium barn was built. Farms are now larger and the machinery and equipment are sized to match, these larger implements have grown far too big for traditionally built barns, leaving them to fall victim to disuse.
When cast aside and unmaintained, it doesn’t take long for out buildings to fall into decay. Once the decline of the building has started repairs can be costly, just as costly is removing the barn, so these old large buildings are usually relinquished to the elements.
Sitting vacant can wear more on these old structures than everyday farm operations. Harsh winters are this barn’s undoing. The cattle that once warmed the building, are long gone, leaving the ground around the barn to freeze and thaw, endlessly heaving and shifting the foundation. The weight of the accumulating snow crushing a few more of the aging beams, bowing a few more rafters. The Sanitarium barn wears the marks of a long life but if you look closely it is not hard to imagine the bustling barnyard and a thriving farm that it once was.
Jennifer Morrisey has lived in Upstate New York her entire life and is now raising her own family on a small farm in the Finger Lakes region. She is blogger at Home In the Finger Lakes where she writes about country life, shares kid-tested recipes and explores the unique local history of the Finger Lakes area. You can find her on Twitter, posting pics over on Instagram and sharing on Facebook.