Fire at the "Springs House"

Finding Fires - Dryden

Fire at the "Springs House"

Freeville, New York 13068, United States

Created By: Ithaca Heritage


Date: June 6, 1915

Location: Spring House Road, Dryden

In 1840, the building that would become Dryden Springs Sanitarium was built as a hotel named the Dryden Springs House. It became known for its parties and banquets, and was known by most Drydenites as the “Springs House.” Around 1865, Dr. Samantha Nivison bought the property and founded Dryden Springs Sanitarium.

Dr. Nivison was one of the first women to practice medicine in Tompkins County. Before opening a sanitarium in Dryden, she planned a sanitarium in Ithaca called Cascadilla Place. This proposed sanitarium was to be funded by Ezra Cornell. As Ezra Cornell got caught up in the planning of his new university, the costs of a sanitarium became unfeasible and Nivison abandoned the project. Ezra kept the building around as a student dormitory and multi-purpose space.

Undeterred, Dr. Nivison later opened Dryden Springs Sanitarium, relying on the reputation of Dryden springs mineral water as a healting therapeutic to entice visitors. The city water, said Nivison, was toxic, and harmful to the health. City dwellers would come to “take waters” and enjoy the tranquil rural environment on extended vacations. Nivison’s venture didn’t end there- the spring water was bottled and sold by grocers and druggists across the state, and even by mail-order. The company was successful for a short period of time, but ran into financial challenges when the popularity of medicinal waters dried up.

As the Springs House’s popularity waned, Nivison pivoted to open a home for the poor, and ill women and children. In 1883, she opened the “Cottage,” and took in 27 children. Two years later, tragedy struck when 21 of the children died in a measles outbreak. Their deaths were compounded by Dr. Nivison's failure to report the deaths to the civil authorities, as she was legally required to do.

The newspapers had previously reported on her medical expertise with glowing positivity. After the scandal, they denounced Nivison, and questioned her status as a leading physician. It was discovered that the conditions at the Cottage were poor, and that there was not enough staff, supplies, or food to adequately care for so many sick children. The sanitarium in Dryden soon closed, and in 1906 when Dr. Nivison died, the building was sold and then sat neglected for a decade.

In 1915, a fire was set on the third floor while groups of people picnicked and played on the nearby grounds. The building, made almost entirely of wood, went up in flames rapidly. The blaze drew a crowd of onlookers. The source of the fire was never investigated, but since the building had been plundered by junk collectors and was a “stomping ground” for “vagrants” and the town’s poor, the fire came as no surprise.

Images courtesy of The History Center inTompkins County


This point of interest is part of the tour: Finding Fires - Dryden


Leave a Comment



Download the App

Download the PocketSights Tour Guide mobile app to take this self-guided tour on your GPS-enabled mobile device.

iOS Tour Guide Android Tour Guide



Updates and Corrections

Please send change requests to