The next time you're in Piedmont Park and feel like standing on a spot where Mark Twain once stood, take the paved trail along the east side of the creek until you come to a restored curved wall made of rough-cut stones.
There you'll see a "Sulphur Springs Grotto" marker with descriptions and historical photos showing what was once a popular spa many generations ago when men wore frock coats and women wore petticoats.
One of the photos was published on Piedmont Patch on Feb. 13 and shows a young Twain around 1867 in a high hat signing an autograph amid a dozen thoroughly dressed men and women and a couple of youngsters. The original of the photo, by famous English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, is part of the collection of the Oakland History Room at the Oakland Public Library.
The first known visitor to the springs at that location was retired U.S. Senator Isaac Hayes of South Carolina, who reportedly installed a tub there in the 1860s to enjoy outdoor baths in the mineral-rich water for his rheumatism, according to the marker.
Walter Blair, who later bought the property that became the park and built a hotel there, bottled the water for sale and erected the gazebo at the springs that can be seen in the Twain photo.
The hotel burnt down in 1892, and the property was sold to Frank Havens, who built a fake stone grotto at the springs. The contemporary grotto restoration, which incorporates remnants of Haven's grotto, was completed in 2007 for the city centennial, according to the marker.
To find the grotto, enter the park at the city's iconic arch at the Exedra entrance on Highland Avenue. Walk straight toward Bushy Dell Creek down the paved path and then turn left at the point where you are forced to go either left for right. Go a short distance to cross the bridge over the creek and then bear right heading south, keeping on the path that runs along the east bank of the creek until you reach the grotto.
If you want to see a higher resolution version of the photo than was published on Patch or is shown on the park marker, you can find one on a UC Berkeley website here. Patch thanks reader Jim Baack for letting us know about this version of the photo.
And thanks to former Piedmont City Clerk Ann Swift for providing some of the historic background and alerting us to an outdoor Piedmont Park History Trail map at Highland and Vista Avenue that shows the location of the grotto.
Swift also said the Twain photo belonged originally to the Requa family. In the 1880s, the largest of the original seven houses in what is now Piedmont belonged to Isaac and Sarah Requa, according to a history of Piedmont on the city's website. Painted yellow and visible from the Bay, it was called "The Highlands" by the Requas and gave us the name for Highland Avenue.