Heritage Tourism – Red Boiling Springs, TN

Front porch at Donoho

Front porch at the Donoho Hotel 

This week’s visit to Red Boiling Springs, a historic mineral springs resort approximately two hours from Nashville in the Upper Cumberland region, got me thinking about heritage tourism in a new way. More specifically, it is making me consider how my experience differs whether I visit a site in a professional capacity as a historian or as a casual tourist.

As a historian, I actively seek out information from a variety of sources. I take loads of high definition photos (buildings, signs and landscapes), gather up any printed material available on site, visit the local library if time permits, and ask numerous questions of everyone I meet. Like a sponge, I  soak up information and atmosphere in equal parts. I am energized by being in the field and cannot wait to get back to my desk to get to work.

Fruit cellar at Donoho's circa late 19th century. Predates standing hotel.

Fruit cellar at Donoho’s circa late 19th century. Predates standing hotel by many decades.

The first step is always downloading the photos and picking out the best ones to share with family and friends over email and Facebook. They provide a taste of the site and my  point of view – what struck me as representative, beautiful, odd and/or dramatic. The photos answer the question, in visual terms, how was your day and what were you up to? I can tell you right now that if I was in the field it was a GREAT day and that I saw something new and unexpected. Looking through the photos lets me relive the experience and be thankful for a profession that requires field work. It sure beats a desk job!

Brick work on front facade of Thomas House

Brick work on front facade of Thomas House

The next steps are focused on research. I typically start with the photos. My camera captures details that I miss both large and small. I return to the photos throughout the process. Then I will review the material collected at the site, read through the National Register nomination, do an Internet search – Wikipedia, site’s website, tourism material etc.. – and keyword search on library databases. Many questions will surface and a list of sources to examine in further detail will be generated. Depending on the purpose of the project, I will draft papers, reports and/or powerpoint presentations. The process from start to finish is deeply satisfying but requires a large investment in time and energy.

Wall of History at Armour's (originally the Count's Hotel )

Wall of History in the lobby at Armour’s (aka the Count’s Hotel)

National Register posted in the lobby of Armour's

National Register plaque posted in the lobby of Armour’s

On reflection, I see that as a tourist I approach a historic site in a very different manner. I am a relatively passive consumer. I will read what’s put in front of me, whether that be an interpretive panel or brochure, and take a tour but will not seek out additional information. A series of related questions come to mind.

How can a historic site convert casual observers into students of history who are energized and excited by what is in front of them? What tools can help tourists engage with the place and celebrate its unique history and culture? What questions can a site ask that will encourage tourists to seek out additional information after they leave. These questions and more will be explored in coming posts.

Red Boiling Springs is located on the Ring of Fire Trail, one of the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways.

Sign on front porch of Amour’s. Red Boiling Springs is located on the Ring of Fire Trail, one of the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways


  1. Ginna,

    I love your post! I agree whole-heartedly that often times its our photographs that often bring to light the tiny details and character of a destination that we would have otherwise missed.

    As someone who’s passionate about history, I like the questions that you ask in reference to how a historic site can convert casual observers into students of history? How does one get energized about what’s in front of them?

    I have to say I love to travel and I appreciate great service as well, whether at a bed and breakfast in the country, historic hotel , or a swanky new hotel in the heart of a city. I think a huge part of the preservation of these historic structures is the staff that occupies and maintains them. Their knowledge is key bridging the past with the present and setting the foundation for generations to come, with the goals of preservation. One of the papers I read about preservation said it best (at least to me)

    “History comes alive when someone is able to not only read about the past, but is also able to visit the places, examine the artifacts, appreciate the images, and study the actual words. For most people, history starts with simply learning about their family or their community. A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies — all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.”

    I think as a young traveler (I’d like to consider myself young still 🙂 ) I love going places, but more then just being there, I love to learn the history. Is there a location to rent bikes? Is there a tour?, what makes this place special ? Are all questions we ask on our trips. Service is a huge piece from start to finish, at least from my perspective. When understanding how to energize and transform the casual visitor, I think the driving force falls to the responsibility of the location’s staff and their attempts to get to know their guests. Are they celebrating something? What prompted the visit, Why are they here? All of which pieces together for the staff, a better understanding of how they can inspire and transform the guest into an explorer, a student of history, or simply enrich their guests with a memorable stay. Make me excited to do the 21 different ghost tours, which museum is featuring that piece of history I had no clue about… things like that.

    I’d like to think the second piece to that, in our digital age,… gems like these can often be overlooked. Now when performing a basic internet search, for this specific location/town these are the only three hotels in the area. However, when comparing the three websites, you can see there is a huge difference in the standards maintained by each of the properties. You can see the pride the town takes when searching the locations through Red Boiling Spring’s web page. Enhancing their opportunities online and making the investment into a more accessible (searchable) website featuring the stunning views, historic sites, and unique quirks, etc.. all add value and bring more interest to the preservation of these historic hotels.
    I love what you’re doing and can’t wait to read more.

    Side note. I hope you wanted feedback or input on your posts. If they were rhetorical questions meant for the reader to ponder my apologies in advance 🙂 .


    1. What a thoughtful response Ian, thank you. I totally agree that an active social media / web presence is a key piece to the heritage tourism puzzle.

      And what source are you quoting? I would like to check it out. Thanks again.


      1. Hey Ginna,

        Sorry for the delay, Im not sure the sources I found directly, it was several google searches and browsing through as I typed the response, I will keep track of any futures sources just in case. I’m enjoying your blog.


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