Who would’ve thought the smell of rotten eggs in a swamp would lead to a wildly successful health spa in rural Jordan? A turn-of-the-century millwright named Ole Rosendahl, apparently.
Rosendahl owned a plot of land three miles outside Jordan and made a fortuitous discovery while moving a cart on his property one day. The cart got stuck in some mud on the low-lying land and Rosendahl noticed a strong smell of sulfur emanating from the sludge.
Soon after, he began offering sulfur mud baths at his homestead and Mudbaden was born. The sulfur-rich mud was touted as a treatment for rheumatism, gout and other joint and muscle ailments.
Ole Rosendahl took a step back and let his son RJ Rosendahl take over the business, along with Dr. W.H. Philips and Dr. T.M. Larson. Phillips didn’t stick around long, but Dr. Larson was described as slick, salesminded and charismatic. He would be credited with having the vision to elevate Mudbaden from a local operation to a more upscale destination.
“They advertised the curative properties of the mud, but they were also showing it off as a recreational facility, a place to go on vacation,” said Rose James, program director for the Scott County Historical Society. “Originally Ole Rosendahl told people about this sulfur mud by word of mouth. He put a few advertisements in the paper but it was really a local affair. Once his son and Dr. Larson started to take over, you saw advertisements popping up all over.”
In 1910 a booklet was published that detailed the curative properties of Mudbaden. It was sent to every physician in Minneapolis. The owner’s staff began touting their treatments as cures for rheumatism, lumbago, liver and kidney disorders, eczema and skin diseases.
By 1912, patients hailed from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and “Pacific and Canadian provinces.” That same year at train station was built directly outside Mudbaden’s front door.
“The station was only 100 feet from the entrance. Today we consider that a problem ... but in that time having a train station right by your door was great. It was a way to get people and goods to you quickly,” James said.
In 1913, Dr. Larson became the sole owner and in the following years he installed electric lighting, summer cottages and additional rooms. Mudbaden advertised itself as a luxurious health resort, but it was still used frequently by Jordan locals. Jordan’s barber, Doc Varner, is said to have visited Mudbaden twice weekly and had a reserved chair.
In 1914, Larson sold his interest in Mudbaden for $100,000 and the Mudbaden Sulfur Springs Company was created. The company was headed by local drug store owner Joseph Kehrer, along with two businessmen from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Under new management, a $100,000 modern brick building was built to accommodate 200 patients. After six months of construction, the building collapsed and the owners dedicated another $50,000 to complete construction in 1915 with a new contractor.
The elegant building included four steam-heated sun buildings for winter treatment, two open verandas, an ornate lobby and dining room and oak-beamed ceilings.
“At this point you could see they were really upping the resort feel of this place. The mud spas were still the draw but they were definitely trying to bring in a wealthier clientele who was going to want fine dining, dances, golf — all of these different recreational activities,” James said.
In order to accommodate Twin Cities clientele, Mudbaden started a bus service that brought guests to Mudbaden daily. A one-way ride cost 75 cents.
“They made it so you could stay for the night or just go for the day,” James said.
As Mudbaden’s success rose and the resort became more upscale, the actual mud production remained pretty simple. The mud was dug using a hand operated crane and loaded into a cart that was drawn along a rail to the mud room, where it was shoveled into a mixer that broke up and heated the mud.
Mud treatment was issued to patients every morning. Hot mud was placed 3-6 inches deep on steel tables before patients were laid down and covered with hot mud. Patients were “cooked” for 30 minutes and given cold sulfur water to drink to prevent overheating. Afterward, patients washed themselves off and were wrapped in warm blankets. The afternoons were reserved for recreation and relaxation.
In 1928, overnight stays cost $25-35 depending on the time of year. Day passes cost $5-7. In 2019 dollars, an overnight stay would translate to about $350-550 a night. Day treatments would cost $70-90.
“This was not cheap. This was definitely a luxury treatment that people were receiving,” James said.
In 1948, Mudbaden was sold to a Chicago businessman. By that time, the facility was in decline as patent medicine had fallen out of fashion.
“The hubbub of new scientific restorative cures of the early 1900s had died down and people were starting to put their faith — especially after World War II — in solid, tested, hospital-based medicine,” James said.
The final patient to receive treatment at Mudbaden was Gov. Luther Youngdahl. In 1952 the facility was sold to Sacred Heart, an affiliate of the University of Notre Dame. They used it as a seminary until 1967, when it was sold to Valleyview Manor and briefly operated as a hotel.
In 1969 it became Lynnville, an alcohol recovery and drug addiction treatment center. It remained a drug treatment facility until 1985, when it was purchased by Scott County to be used as a minimum security prison.
Today, the prison is gone but the building remains. It is operated by the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency as a regional training facility for county staff.
“When you walk through you can tell it used to be this huge, glamorous hall. It has these beautiful panels and giant windows that open,” James said. “It’s a lovely place.”
Even though Mudbaden’s history is well documented, one question remains unanswered: did the sulfur treatment ever really work?
Well, professionals aren’t sure.
Some studies have shown that sulfur, applied topically or orally can help with arthritis. The American Arthritis foundation has even said there is evidence that sulfur is effective, but notes that “no large, well controlled human studies have ever been performed.” The treatment may have nothing to do with the mud, however, since heat is still used to treat arthritis.
So who knows whether it was the hot mud, elegant dining or the relaxing atmosphere — all we know for sure is that Mudbaden had to be doing something right for all those years.
This report was based on information from the Scott County Historical Society.