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"Fashionable "watering place," a recreational and social center prior to 1861. The hotel stood five miles northeast." In the years before the Civil War, North Carolina’s elite in need of a break from the summer heat could escape to Lincoln County’s Catawba Springs resort. The popular antebellum destination, named for the Catawba Indians living in the area, was built amidst seven mineral springs near Denver. Guests vacationed there as early as the 1790s. In 1824, geology professor Dennis Olmstead recommended the waters of the springs for complaints concerning the liver and weakness. There is little evidence that healing actually occurred; nonetheless Catawba Springs became a popular stop on the stagecoach lines from Salisbury to Asheville.
Revolutionary War veteran and state legislator, Captain John Reid was the first known proprietor of Catawba Springs. After his death in 1821, the spa passed through a series of owners: Charles Jugnot, William Simonton, and Joseph Hampton. In 1838, Hampton renovated and expanded Catawba Springs, including the construction of a two story, 100-room hotel. After the renovation, during parties and on holidays, as many as 500 guests assembled on the porch of the hotel. Before that time, the spa could only accommodate sixty to seventy guests in its cabins. Most guests were members of the southern planter class from North and South Carolina. Among the names of prominent North Carolina families listed in the hotel records are the Grahams, Brevards, Alexanders, Caldwells, Davidsons, and Polks. Some guests made their way to the spa from Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Students from nearby Davidson College could also be found enjoying themselves there on the weekends. During the early 1840s, Peter S. Ney ran a school for boys at the resort known as Stewart’s Seminary.
The Civil War put an end to the southern planter aristocracy, and with its patron base depleted, Catawba Springs closed in the mid-1860s. By the time North Carolina had begun to recover from the devastation of the war, railways and eventually good highways had led to the opening of mountain resorts. (A similar, but unrelated, resort operated under the name Sparkling Catawba Springs in Catawba County during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.) The buildings, demolished in 1930, and their guests are long gone, and the springs now bubble invisibly into a farm pond. A faint, lingering scent of sulfur is all that remains.
Chalmers G. Davidson, “Catawba Springs – Carolina’s Spa,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1951): 414-420
Alfred Nixon, History of Lincoln County (1910)
Marvin A. Brown, Our Enduring Past: A Survey of 235 Years of Life and Architecture in Lincoln County, North Carolina (1986)
Lincolnton Times-News, May 2, 1994
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.