The Natural Hot Mineral Springs were discovered in 1778 by a group of mountaineer white settlers. Artifacts found at these springs supported the claim that the Cherokee Indians used these springs and believed in their magical curative powers many years before they arrived.
Two hundred (200) acres of land including the springs were deeded in 1788, and a tavern was established. It was a popular stopping point for travelers during the American Revolution and for the drovers who herded their livestock along the road from Greeneville, TN to Greenville, SC. This tavern also became legend and was an infamous site for robberies and many murders.
Another development which aided in the prospering of what was then known as Warm Springs was the opening of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1828. The Turnpike was a toll road that ran from Asheville to Warm Springs and into Tennessee. The tavern grew into a popular hotel. In 1828, Zebulon Baird Vance worked as a clerk in the hotel. He later became the Civil War Governor of North Carolina.
In 1830, Wade Hampton, later known as a war hero and governor of South Carolina, built a summer cottage behind the hotel. In 1832, The Patton Brothers, James W. and John E. bought the hotel and made extensive improvements to it. It was one of the most beautiful resort hotels in the East. It had the second largest ballroom in the state and during the summer season attracted as many as 1,000 visitors at a time. Hot Springs became known throughout the world because of it’s magical healing waters and lavish resort In 1838, the main part of the hotel, along with the stables, was destroyed by fire, but repairs were made quickly and the hotel reopened on July 1, 1839. ??After the Civil War, Col. J. H. Rumbough purchased the hotel and springs and under his wife, Carrie T. Rumbough’s influence, the resort became a fashionable destination point. The railroad expanded service through Hot Springs and season excursion tickets allowed even more people access to the popular resort known for it’s healing waters. ??In 1884, the Patton was destroyed by fire. J. H. Rumbough, lacking means of rebuilding, sold the property to a northern organization called the Southern Improvement Company.
Spending great sums of money, the four story Mountain Park Hotel was built in 1884 along with the first golf course in North Carolina and a bathhouse was built over the springs. The hotel was done in an elegant Swiss style of architecture with the latest styled Mansard roof. There were 200 bedrooms all lighted by electricity and heated by steam. The modern bathhouse held 16 marble pools each one measuring 9 feet long, 6 feet wide and up to 6 feet deep. After the bath, the patient would walk to another room and receive a massage or other treatment depending on his condition. The typical treatment plan consisted of 21 days of baths and massage therapy. ??The first golf course in the state was a nine hole course adjacent to the hotel. It was called the Wana Luna. The tees and greens were square. The “gutta percha” balls were swept away instead of driven, as today.
The Southern Improvement Company went bankrupt in the process of rebuilding the resort and offered the property back to Col. Rumbough. He bought it and once again became owner and manager for the famous hotel which catered to the fashionable crowd. Many tourists came to the hotel for the curative values of the waters, but other guests were the South’s elite who came summer after summer to enjoy the social life for which Hot Springs had become famous. There were amusements of every variety: bowling alleys, billiard rooms, tennis courts, swimming pools, riding stables, a golf course, amateur theatricals, and an orchestra playing for dances every evening in the large ballroom. There was a fifth of a mile of glass enclosed porches which kept out the chickens and other animals which had roamed on the porches of the old hotel.
Now the grounds of the Hot Springs Resort and Spa
Things went well with the Mountain Park until the outbreak of World War I. Carrie Rumbaugh died in 1913. Travel to the hotel slowed considerably. Col. Rumbough negotiated a contract with the War Department to house Germans who were in N.Y. Harbor on luxury liners when war was declared. Consequently, 2500 passengers, officers and crew members came by train to Hot Springs. Officers were put into the hotel. Women were found rooms in town. They were excellent dressmakers and sewed for the townspeople. The brass band from the VADDERLAND ship practiced each day and gave concerts for the townspeople every Sunday afternoon. ??The German men built a small village on the lawn of the hotel using scrap lumber, driftwood and flattened tin cans. The chapel was built of flattened Prince Albert Tobacco tins and was large enough to hold a few people for worship. Lacking paints, they ingeniously compounded mixtures of berry juices and colored clays to brighten the walls of their village (for more information and a pictorial history, please read: The German Invasion Of Western North Carolina…available in our gift shop).??The 1916 flood damaged the hotel considerably. The German Village, tents and barracks were all washed away. The guests all escaped to higher ground. No lives were lost. The whole town watched as the great flood washed by carrying cotton bales, animals, turkeys, chickens, furniture, trees, caskets from the casket plant at Woodfin, and even a whole house with the rocking chair still rocking back and forth on the porch. After the flood, repairs were made to the hotel and the swimming pool was excavated from the fill dirt brought by the flood. In 1918, influenza and typhoid became epidemic. Some of the Germans died and were buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery. Later their bodies were moved to Riverside in Asheville. When the armistice was announced, the German band played all night. Many of them came back after the war with their families because of the warm friendships that had developed with the townspeople of Hot Springs. ??In January 1920, the elegant hotel burned and ended an era of the fancy resort life. The Colonel retired, and died in May of 1924. Bessie Safford, daughter of Col. Rumbough, acquired the property and built The Hot Springs Inn. She had intended it to be a sanitarium but the plan never materialized. She conveyed the property to the Catholic Church for a retreat and rest home. It was used only briefly for this purpose, largely due to the remoteness of the area and to the fact that there were few Catholics in Madison County. In 1940, the hotel property with the springs and 100 acres of land was sold to a group of Marshall Business men. It was operated off and on for several years. The development of I 40 took traffic away from US 25/70 and the area fell into decline. The Rudisill family bought the property in 1956. In 1977 the Hot Springs Inn burned and Hot Springs fell into decline.
Gene and Anne Hicks arrived on the scene in 1990 to rescue the overgrown neglected property from decay. Gene was born in Madison County not far from Hot Springs. “Of all the places I’ve ever been, Hot Springs is the jewel,” he said. “This place is magic. Look at this view. Look at this water bubbling up and try to recall that the Cherokee used these springs for their health hundreds of years ago. That’s exciting to me.”
“We want Hot Springs to be a place the whole family can enjoy,” Gene said. “We want it to be a special place of beauty and relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the city.”
This story of Hot Springs was compiled from several resources including: The Heritage of Old Buncombe County North Carolina Volume II 1987, The Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society, Doris Ward, Editor; Hot Springs: The Rise and Fall of Mountain Elegance Danny Tinsley 1975; Advertisement Brochures from the Mountain Park Hotel; and newspaper articles by Bob Hurley in the Greeneville Sun, 1971 and 1991. All photographs used are from the personal collection of Mr. Gene Hicks