Please note that visitors are not allowed at the site. I got special permission to access the complex from the owner for research purposes. I was told to stay 100 feet back from the buildings due to their deteriorated conditions.
Today’s field visit was to Kingston Springs, thirty minutes west of Nashville. I went to document the Kingston Springs Hotel and Buildings Complex placed on the National Register in 1979 as part of the State of Tennessee Cultural Research Survey. I knew from earlier conversations with the owner that the buildings were in bad repair and entering them was not an option. Still, I was excited to see what remained of the original mineral spring resort. According to the nomination, “Of the 31 major health spas in Middle Tennessee, the Kingston Springs Hotel is one of the four that survived and helps to remind us of a time and lifestyle long since vanished.” Cool, right.
The placement and scale of buildings at this mid to late 19th century resort – single hotel building with a capacity of 15-20 people and 13 flanking guest cabins of which 2 remain – is very different from that of Red Boiling Springs, a resort that flourished between World I and World War II. At its heyday in the mid-1920s, Red Boiling Springs had 6 large hotels and 9 boarding houses. The Donoho Hotel (1916) itself had 60 rooms. Today, Red Boiling Springs has 3 extant hotels, all of which accept overnight guests. In Kingston Springs, the legacy of the resort is best reflected in its name as the buildings are on private property and in bad repair.
While it was interesting visiting the historic resort, my favorite part of the afternoon came when I decided to follow the sign for the “Screaming Eagle Trail: Lady Legends to Heroes Trail.” This is one of the Trails and Byways created by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development in conjunction with its local partners to encourage people to explore all 95 counties of the state. Tennessee is much more than Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga. I, for one, am convinced that the real Tennessee is found in small towns and backroads. I am thankful of the historic hotel project, Dr. Carroll Van West my dissertation advisor and state historian, and Lee Curtis my professional residency sponsor and heritage tourism guru at the Department of Tourist Development for opening my eyes to this truth. As a public historian, it is my responsibility to figure out how best to share what I have learned and encourage others to “Discover Tennessee” for themselves.