Seminary Fen is located between the cities of Chaska and Chanhassen, just across the river from Shakopee. In the twenty-first century, the site is a rare wetland, but the site was used long before the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took control in 2008.
The history of Seminary Fen begins with the sulfur springs on the site. When Dr. Henry P. Fischer moved to the Shakopee area in 1894, he became interested in the sulfur springs and in 1908, he and his wife bought the land. That same year, Fischer teamed up with Dr. T. M. Larson of Jordan and F.W. Goodrich of Eden Prairie to form the Shakopee Mineral Springs Co. The Fischers' then sold the land to the company but remained living on site. Members of the Fischer family continued with the company until it was sold in 1951.
In November 1908, construction began on a sanatorium on the site. It was a health spa, a place to learn to stay well, not a hospital. The site was originally named the Swastika Sulpher Springs Sanitarium, after the symbol that meant life, power, strength, and good luck. However, the name was changed long before Germany's Adolf Hitler gave a negative connotation to the word "swastika". The sanatorium was known as Mudcura by the time the site officially opened in July of 1909. The only thing left behind of the earlier name was a decorative swastika symbol in the main office. The name Mudcura came from the mud baths and mud wraps thought to cure diseases that were given on site.
Mudcura's main building included twenty-seven bedrooms for up to fifty guests, a cigar and newsstand, a smoking room, and a barbershop. Patients stayed for days or weeks, visiting one-three times a year. Mud baths and baths in the springs treated arthritis, rheumatism, gout, neuralgia, asthma, skin or nervous diseases, kidney problems, and alcoholism. One treatment was to lie on a rattan bed covered from the neck down in heated mud, followed by a massage and wrap in a cool blanket. Other treatments included drinking sulfur water or electric treatments. The rest of the visit was spent relaxing in leisure activities like walks or lawn sports. Records show patients from all over Minnesota, and Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Saskatchewan, Canada.
In 1951, the sanatorium was sold to the Black Franciscans, Order of Friars Minor Conventual, from Louisville, Kentucky. They named it Assumption Seminary and the site became linked with both the Colleges of St. Catherine and St. Thomas in St. Paul. The Seminary remained in operation until 1970.
After 1970, the property changed hands many times, but remained abandoned. Many legends about the site being haunted sprang up. At times religious music was faintly heard inside the building. However, this can be explained. Across the street are two transmission towers for a Christian radio station, and on foggy nights, the water pipes in the building would pick up the radio signal and transmit it audibly at a low level within the building. On November 8, 1997, a fire broke out at the site, destroying all remaining structures. It is believed the fires were set intentionally, to destroy this haunted "Hell House."
In the twenty-first century, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has control of the site, still named for Assumption Seminary, as a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). Seminary Fen is a calcareous fen within a larger wetland complex. Calcareous fens are a special type of wetland that can occur only at the base of slopes or bluffs, where cool, mineral-rich groundwater appears as springs. Water charged with minerals comes to the surface, then saturates and helps maintain thick layers of peat created by the decomposition of the plants that grow in the oxygen-poor water. Seminary Fen's groundwater drains into Assumption Creek. The cold, clear waters of the creek form one of the Twin Cities metro area's last surviving trout streams and flow from the fen to the Minnesota River just a mile away. A calcareous fen is Minnesota's rarest wetland type. Fewer than five hundred survive in the world and Seminary Fen is one of the last remaining fens of this quality. It is home to many threatened and endangered plant species.
Crawford, Richard. "State DNR to Acquire Seminary Fen Property." Chaska Herald, March 6, 2008.
Durben, Mary. "Mudcura Attracted Thousands." Carver County Herald, June 23, 1988.
______. "Growing Up at Mudcura was 'Great', Says Founder's Daughter." Carver County Herald, June 23, 1988.
Faber, Jim. "Once Known Nationally, Now Just a Memory." Chaska Herald, February 21, 1991.
"Seminary Fen" Educational Program. Carver County Historical Society.
"Seminary Fen." Lower Minnesota River Watershed District. Accessed April 19, 2013.
"Seminary Fen SNA." Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed April 19, 2013.
The formation of the Swastika Sulpher Springs Sanitarium at the Seminary Fen site in 1909 begins the history of Seminary Fen as a health and wellness destination, spanning four decades of patients from around the world.