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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

From "Warm Springs" to "Hot Springs"

Hot Springs, North Carolina, has been a resort destination since the early 1800's and has long been renowned for its healing mineral springs and scenic mountain setting. Nestled on the banks of the French Broad River, Hot Springs has a lot to offer the outdoorsy minded types like myself. The Cherokee and Catawba Indians were the first to discover the 100-plus degree mineral water from which the Town of Hot Springs got its name. Colony traders came next, and by 1778 word was spreading that the mineral water from this area was healing the lame and sick. Travelers began climbing over the mountains to the hot springs to be healed of various illnesses. On March 19, 1791, William Nelson bought the hot springs property for "two hundred pounds in Virginia currency" and then began the commercial operation of charging a fee for a sitting in the mineral baths.

In 1828 the Buncombe Turnpike was completed through the town of “Warm Springs” thereby connecting Tennessee and Kentucky to the East Coast. This narrow winding mountain road was considered to be a super highway in it's day and was use by farmers who drove thousands of horses, cattle and hogs to market in Charleston South Carolina. and Augusta Georgia stopping to take in the waters along the way.

In 1831 James Patton saw the potential for a resort location and bought the property and by 1837 had completed the “Warm Springs Hotel” with 350 rooms and thirteen columns on the outside commemorating the thirteen colonies. It was soon given the nickname of “Patton's Whitehouse” due to it's enormous size and grandeur. The dining room was able to hold 600 people in comfort and the ballroom was then the second largest in the state.

The property was again sold in 1862 and purchased by James H. Rumbough, a wealthy stage coach operator. It was during the ownership of Rumbough that the son of then president Andrew Johnson (Frank Johnson) met his bride Bessie Rumbough (daughter of he owner).

The railroad came to town in 1882 and Rumbough then saw an opportunity for enlarging his hotel. Two years later the hotel burned and much of the town, springs and resort property were sold to the Southern Improvement Company which was owned by a northern interests. In 1886 the Mountain Park Hotel was built and a spring with a higher temperature was discovered which prompted the residents to decide to change the name from Warm Springs to Hot Springs.

The Mountain Park Hotel was one of the most elegant resorts in the country during it's operational lifetime. The hotel consisted of 200 rooms, barn and stables, springhouse and a bathhouse consisting of sixteen marble tubs surrounded by landscaped lawns with tennis and croquet courts. The hotel was home to the first organized golfing club ion the Southeast with a nine hole course.

By 1917 the resort was being used less and less by visitors and profits were down which brought about the decision to lease the property to the government to house German merchant sailors captured in U.S harbors when war was declared. Once the war was over, several of the prisoners returned to Hot Springs to visit due the the hospitality of the townspeople while they were held there. After the war the Mountain Park Hotel never was able to regain the popularity it once had before the war. In 1920 yet another fire claimed this glorious resort hotel and was never rebuilt. Over the next forty years two other hotels were built on the resort property and they both fell victim to the flame. Now the town of Hot Springs is all but forgotten as a resort community and tourism destination for travelers.

Today the mineral hot springs are enjoyed by locals, hikers, campers and travelers who seek adventure on the road less traveled. The Appalachian Trail runs through the heart of Hot Springs before it then sneaks back into the mountains and climbs to the ridge tops and continues on. Hot Springs hosts several festivals throughout the year that do attract many visitors and trail hikers who find Hot Springs a quite place to stop and rest and gather supplies before moving on. Trail Fest has been held for eleven years in Hot Springs and has been heralded as one of the top outdoor related festivals in the country. The Bluff Mountain Music Festival is held on the grounds of the resort property and also is in it's eleventh year. The French Broad River Festival has been on the must do list of many paddlers for nine years.

It only stands to reason that Hot Springs would be situated near some sort of geological activity giving rise to the warm water that makes the area so famous. In 2005 an earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scales struck on the Tennessee\North Carolina border centered near Hot Springs. The quake was felt as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, about 170 miles away. Although this may seem like an unusual location for earthquakes, minor quakes in this area are not uncommon. The largest earthquake in the area (magnitude 5.1) occurred in 1916 . Since 1971 This 100 mile area has seen 77 earthquakes at or above 2.0. A dozen of these quakes were 3.0 or larger. This most recent quake has been the largest telling me that we are leading up to something pretty big in the future.

The hey day of this little diamond of a town may be over in the eyes of historians, but in my eyes and heart Hot Springs is definitely one of the most exciting places I have ever been to sit back and do nothing other than let the mountains surround me in peace and quite. The wife and I love to jump over the mountain several times throughout the year to have a soak in the crystal clear naturally carbonated water on the very same grounds that once attracted the most elite and well-to-do citizens of our country.


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