BRINGING HISTORY TO LIFE
The history of the mineral baths on the Diamond Estate in Soufrière began in 1785. The Governor of St. Lucia, Baron de Laborie, an intellectual man who sought progress and prosperity for the island, saw great potential in the hot springs that flowed from the Sulphur Springs area through the valley at Diamond Estate. The Baron authorized an investigation of these mineral waters hoping that they would be medicinally beneficial and offer some relief from the ominous threat of disease that continually plagued the region. Four experts, including a doctor, a surgeon and a therapist were commissioned to carry out a study. The results were presented the following year in a report entitled, "Memoire analytique des eaux minerales de la Soufrière et sur son soufre"; Analysis of the mineral waters of Soufrière and on its sulphur content.
The conclusions were impressive. One of the springs was found to contain waters comparable to the famous baths in France at Aix les Bains and Aix la Chapelle as well as the equally acclaimed ancient springs of Aachen in Germany. Immediately, King Louis XVI with the endorsement of the Medecin du Roi (the King's physician) authorized a large sum of money to be spent on the construction of five baths at Diamond for the use of His Majesty's troops stationed throughout the French Antilles. The first baths were completed in 1786. The healthful waters proved to be so rejuvenating that soon the demand among the troops enticed the governor to finance seven additional baths from his own purse.
However in 1792 the French Revolution stormed across St. Lucia ripping the heart out of the sugar industry and destroying most of the estates and many towns. The baths were totally devastated. They remained in ruin for close to 150 years.
Andre du Boulay, who purchased the estate in 1912, restored two of the historic baths for the use of his family. But the true transformation began in 1983 under the direction of his daughter, Joan Devaux. The area surrounding the ancient baths, a tranquil spot in the river valley fronting the picturesque Diamond Falls, was subsequently sculpted into one of the most outstanding botanical gardens in the Caribbean. The two original baths were opened to the public. New private baths and two outdoor plunge pools were added.
Realizing the immense historical value of the original baths, Mrs. Devaux has decided to carry out a massive restoration project. She approached Mr. Robert Devaux, the island's leading historian, to head the project. Research will be carried out in France to ensure the authenticity of the restoration. Careful monitoring of the work by Mr. Devaux will further maintain the legitimacy of the delicate procedure, prevent improper excavation and ensure that any artifacts uncovered will be properly recovered. Most of the work will be carried out during the low tourist season so as not to interfere with the present operations of the Diamond Falls and Botanical Gardens and the adjoining Soufrière Estate and Sugar Mill. The mill is another remarkable restoration feat completed a few years ago with a massive, churning waterwheel. The current project will include a lively historical account of the baths, enhanced with colour photographs and presented in a handsome souvenir booklet to help guests fully appreciate this monumental site.
The outcome will preserve a rich and important part of the island's history. The restored baths and infrastructure such as the huge holding tank that takes in water from the springs at over 106 ° F, will reflect the past in a beautiful, accessible manner.
Imagine being immersed in the steaming waters, encircled by ancient stonewalls in the tropical setting of the renowned botanical gardens. The waters relieve stress, relax muscles, give relief to arthritis and rheumatism, and nourish the skin. The location extends the benefits to a deeper level within one's soul. The efforts involved in this restoration project will frame part of our history in ancient stone for future generations to discover and enjoy.