Who would have imagined that water that smelled like rotten eggs could have meant so much to a little town?

Back in the day the little town of Manitou was known far and wide for its foul-smelling and mineral-laden water, the water was believed to have a medicinal effect that would take care of nearly every ailment a person could suffer.

The water was sought by health-conscious individuals in the area who saw fit to spend many a Sunday afternoon traveling to the well to fill jugs and bottles.

At that time the tiny town was known as Steuben's Lick. It had been named for a German baron, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben.

Von Steuben was a Prussian army captain in the 1700s who eventually found his way into General George Washington's army. He was a great help to the general and was awarded accordingly with 2,000 acres of land in Hopkins County.

At the time the land had been named Tywhopity and it was inhabited by Indians. No one is sure why Von Steuben traveled to the area, but most likely it was because he had heard rumors of the rich, mineral springs located on the land and wanted to see them. In Von Steuben's native Prussia, mineral waters were of great value and it would have been quite lucrative for him to have a mineral spa in Tywhopity.

Legend has it that when Von Steuben arrived to investigate his new land he encountered Indians who were camped on the land and a skirmish took place in which Von Steuben was slightly wounded. So, the area became known as Steuben's Lick.

C. J. Pratt was responsible for giving the town its present name of Manitou. Pratt was one of the earlier builders of business in the area. He owned a great deal of land and built and operated the first tobacco warehouse in the town.

Pratt had visited Manitou, Colo., a popular summer resort, and was impressed to find out that the sulphur water at that spa resort was much like that in his own town back in Kentucky.

Pratt also learned that the name "Manitou" is given among American Indian tribes to any spirit or supernatural being and is applied to any object of religious awe or relevance.

It has been said that the Indian adored the genius which they call Manitou. To them Manitou was the master of life, the spirit that rules all things.

Upon learning this Pratt was sold. He took his knowledge back to the town and sometime between 1879 and 1882 the name of the town was changed to Manitou.

At one time 10 sulfur springs existed in the area, but, nearly all were either filled in with dirt or destroyed by construction.

The town was never incorporated, but several people made their homes in Manitou throughout the years.

Visitors to the present day Manitou are greeted by a historical marker dedicated to Baron Von Steuben and standing at the side of the road. The area is mostly residential now, but a few businesses are scattered here and there.

Today, the town's activity revolves around the small grocery store and the post office, both of which are located in the center of town.

This feature story originally appeared in the The Messenger in the small towns section of their "Changing Face of Hopkins County" on September 6, 1996 and was written by Slone Hutchison, a summer intern from Murray State University working with The Messenger to gain practical news papering skills during her summer vacation.

My thanks to The Messenger for granting permission to publish on the Hopkins County, Kentucky KyGenWeb page.

Return to Hopkins County


Nancy Trice
Hopkins County, Ky

© 1997