Mineral springs, railroads attracted luxury hotel, bath houses and baseball to ag-based Marlin
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
In the early 1900s, the small city of Marlin — about 38 miles northeast of Temple — was booming thanks to its once-famous hot mineral waters.
The hot springs, discovered in 1892, led to a dozen bath houses and first-class hotels being located in a Central Texas community where cotton reigned supreme for years. Conrad Hilton, known for his chain of luxury inns, built his eighth hotel in Marlin to accommodate visitors to the popular Marlin Sanitarium Bath Houses.
Three railroads served the city, making it a prime destination for “health tourists” coming to soak-in the healing properties of the hot mineral waters.
Marlin had fine hotels and accompanying restaurants, healing bath houses and it was easily accessible by rail, and soon the city caught the eye of Major League Baseball.
From 1904 until 1918, five Major League teams held spring training in Marlin. The Chicago White Sox were there, and so were the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Athletics. But the team with the longest Marlin tenure was the New York Giants, who trained in Marlin for 11 seasons.
According to a 2005 article in the Marlin Democrat (which I wrote), 1903 marked the beginning of MLB’s interest in Marlin and its many amenities. Ted Sullivan, the executive administrator of the Texas League, was promoting the state as a location for spring training. He was buddies with Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago Americans baseball team, and he wrote to Marlin city officials in Feb. 1903 to inquire about the city’s interest in hosting the Americans for spring training.
Marlin jumped at the opportunity, and Comiskey wrote back the following week. He said the timeline was too short for 1903, but said the Americans would be there the following year.
Chicago changed its team name to White Sox prior to the 1904 season, but they came and trained at a freshly upgraded Ball Field at the Fairgrounds. Four reporters from Chicago newspapers accompanied the Sox and reported on the team’s progress and events in the new spring home, prompting the Marlin Democrat to report: “A million people, for possibly the first time, have learned Marlin’s location on a map.”
The Sox did not return the following year, but the St. Louis Cardinals did. The Reds were there in 1906 and 1907. Expecting more teams to follow suit, the city added a second ballpark in 1907 and the Reds were joined by the Athletics.
Marlin’s love affair with the New York Giants began in 1908, and apparently, the feeling was mutual. Not only did the Giants train there for several weeks each year, they also became a big part of the community.
The team played numerous fund-raising games for local organizations and charities, and the Giants even played practice games against Marlin High School. The city, to show its appreciation, deeded Emerson Field to the team. The Giants were welcomed each year with a fish fry, and a Thank You Ball was held at the Arlington Hotel right before the Giants headed back to the Big Apple.
The Arlington was home for the Giants while in Marlin. It’s where Jim Thorpe signed his first pro contract, and ace pitcher Christy Matthewson would take on all comers in checkers at a table on the front porch. Rube Marquard apparently got bored with the hot baths and fired a gun from his hotel room. The law responded but charges were never filed.
Giants manager John McGraw told the Democrat in 1912: “Marlin with its famous water is the finest place on Earth for a ball team.”
World War I broke up the Marlin-Giants marriage in 1918. Major League Baseball established strict travel restrictions that kept the Giants closer to home for a couple of years. And when the heavily courted team returned to Texas in 1920, they jilted Marlin in favor of San Antonio.
Like that, Marlin’s stint as Spring Training host came to an end. Eventually, the mineral springs lost their luster (you can still stick your hands in the spring outside the Marlin Chamber of Commerce office), and bath houses and high-end hotels began to close.
The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Marlin Democrat contributed to this report