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Tour of the Month: Hot Springs

Tour of the Month: Hot Springs Kevin Adams photo of Hot Springs & French Broad River

In 1778, two men named Henry Reynolds and Thomas Morgan were acting as advance scouts, watching for Indian movements. Spotting some stolen horses on the other side of the French Broad River, they left their own mounts on the bank and waded across. While doing so, they noticed that the water was unusually warm. It turned out that the site was fed by an underground natural hot spring. Reynolds and Morgan spread the word when they returned to their settlement. Soon thereafter, invalids began journeying to the area to take the waters in the hope that they would be healed.

But it was a completely different phenomenon that put the town originally called Warm Springs (the name was changed to Hot Springs in 1886) on the map. At the turn of the 19th century, drovers from Kentucky and Tennessee began taking their herds of cattle, hogs, and horses to markets in South Carolina and Georgia. The most popular route ran from Greeneville, Tennessee, through Warm Springs, along the French Broad River, past what is now Asheville, and on to Greenville, South Carolina. In the fall months, a steady stream of livestock moved south along the French Broad. Estimates suggest that between 150,000 and 200,000 hogs were driven along the route every year.

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In the early days, the drovers simply slept on the ground at night. But as the number of herds increased, stock stands—places where drovers could contain and feed their animals for the night and enjoy some rest and relaxation of their own—sprang up. It was not uncommon for 10 to 12 herds numbering from 300 to 1,000 or 2,000 animals apiece to stop overnight and feed at the stands. Each drove had an individual lot to itself. Wagons drove through the lots bearing 10 or 12 men who scattered enough corn to literally cover the ground. The facilities at the stock stands were little better than sleeping on the ground. There was usually a large room with an immense fireplace. The men were given a blanket or two each. They formed a semicircle, their feet to the fire, and slept on the bare floor. Several communities that grew up around stock stands will be pointed out on this tour.

The year 1828 saw the opening of the Buncombe Turnpike, a toll road that ran from Saluda Gap near the South Carolina line through Asheville and Warm Springs to the Tennessee line. It was a considerable improvement over the previous route. One description of conditions on the earlier road came from Bishop Asbury, who journeyed into this area in the autumn of 1800. “My roan horse . . . reeled and fell over, taking the chaise with him,” he wrote. “I was called back, when I beheld the poor beast and the carriage, bottom up, lodged and wedged against a sapling, which alone prevented them both being precipitated into the river.” Neither did the bishop write favorably of the people of Warm Springs: “My company was not agreeable here—there were too many subjects of the two great potentates of this Western World, whisky, brandy. My mind was greatly distressed."

The Buncombe Turnpike brought regular stagecoach traffic, as well as private carriages. In 1831, James Patton and his son John bought the drovers’ stand in Warm Springs and began to upgrade its accommodations. The place burned in 1838, but the Pattons rebuilt. This time, they constructed a masterpiece. The principal structure was a 250-foot-long brick building. Two stories high, it had a piazza fronting the river studded with 13 columns 20 feet high, representing the original states. The hotel could accommodate 500 guests, and the dining room seated 240. A bar, a ballroom, a large stable, and the therapeutic baths were a few of the attractions.

Charles Lanman discussed the springs in his 1848 Letters from the Alleghany Mountains. “The water is clear as crystal, and so heavy that even a child may be thrown into it with little danger of being drowned,” he wrote. “As a beverage, the water is quite palatable, and it is said that some people can drink a number of quarts per day, and yet experience none but beneficial effects. The diseases which it is thought to cure are palsy, rheumatism, and cutaneous affections. . . . The Warm Springs are annually visited by a large number of fashionable and sickly people from all the Southern States. . . . As a resort, especially for the latter part of summer, it has no superior in any State.”

The hotel’s brochure claimed that the waters could “bring bloom back to the cheek, the lustre to the eye, tone to the languid pulse, strength to the jaded nerves, and vigor to the wasted frame.”

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When the Civil War began in 1861, tourism in Warm Springs dropped considerably. In 1862, the hotel was purchased by James Rumbough, the operator of a stagecoach company that ran between Greeneville, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina. Rumbough and his wife, Carrie, were Confederate sympathizers, and their move to Warm Springs was inspired by the uncomfortable conditions in Unionist Greeneville, Tennessee. The story is told that Rumbough was captured while in active service with the Confederates in 1865 and that Carrie, pregnant at the time, rode to Morristown, Tennessee, to beg for his release. She succeeded, and Rumbough returned to Warm Springs to operate the hotel. The property saw its golden years under his ownership.

In 1875, the Rumboughs’ oldest daughter, Bessie, married Andrew Johnson Jr., son of the Unionist who became president of the United States after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Though Bessie’s father had been a Confederate colonel and her mother had burned the bridge in Warm Springs upon hearing of the approach of Union troops, no record exists of any objections to the marriage.

The following year, Rumbough’s hotel received an unexpected and highly profitable endorsement from a popular novel. “The Land of the Sky”; Or, Adventures in Mountain By-Ways was a travel tale based on an actual excursion taken around 1874. Its author was Frances Christine Fisher Tiernan, writing under the nom de plume Christian Reid. Manly Wade Wellman described Reid’s novel in The Kingdom of Madison: “In it, a socially elegant party visits the North Carolina mountains, exclaiming over the scenery and carrying on flirtatious exchanges in terms that . . . seem cumbersomely self-conscious.” Though it may be difficult to understand the popularity of “The Land of the Sky” today, Christian Reid’s descriptions of Warm Springs and Rumbough’s hotel brought guests flocking.

Rumbough used most of his profits to improve the hotel. He added a pair of three-story wings and hundreds of feet of porches. As many as 1,000 guests were frequently accommodated. By that time, 16 springs had been discovered, varying in temperature from 98 to 117 degrees. Guests could bathe in a shower of warm water, or they could choose an enclosed tile tub whose water was piped in from the springs. They could also use the large outdoor pool, where the water ran directly out of the springs. Hunting, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, billiards, bowling, tennis, carriage rides, and balls were other popular activities.

By January 1882, the Western North Carolina Railroad was completed all the way to Paint Rock outside Warm Springs. From there, the new line connected with the East Tennessee Railroad, which brought passengers from the Midwest. Thanks to the new means of transportation, business increased even more.

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The hotel burned in 1884. Rumbough lacked the funds to rebuild, so he sold the property to a group of New York investors, who changed the name of the town to Hot Springs and built a new inn called the Mountain Park Hotel. Their resort had steam heat, electricity, and approximately a quarter-mile of broad porches enclosed by glass. It also boasted a modern bathhouse with 16 marble pools measuring nine feet by six feet each, with depths of up to six feet. The investors overextended themselves and were forced to sell to pay their bills. Rumbough bought the property back and took over the operation as before. In 1875, the first golf course in the Southeast was built on the grounds.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, business slowed at the Mountain Park Hotel. Rumbough negotiated with the federal government to house 2,700 officers and crew members of German merchant vessels captured in New York Harbor at the declaration of war. Although barbed wire was strung up around the hotel grounds, security was relatively relaxed, since the prisoners were noncombatants. Only one escaped; he reportedly wrote from New Mexico that things were better in Hot Springs. Tents were pitched for the enlisted men, while officers were housed in the hotel itself. The prisoners requested and were granted materials to build a more substantial community of shelters resembling the inn’s chalet style. On Sunday afternoons, the band from the ship Vadderland gave concerts for the townspeople. When the armistice was announced, the band played all night. Most prisoners and townspeople had only fond memories of each other.

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[For a complete history of the German internment camp, see THE GERMAN INVASION OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA by Jacqueline Burgin Painter. For more historic photos, see http://www.visitmadisoncounty.com.]

After the war, renovations were started on the hotel, only to be halted by another disastrous fire in 1920. The property passed through several owners but never regained its former grandeur. The last remaining part of the hotel burned in 1976. When a new interstate through the mountains was being discussed, locals had some hope of reviving the area as a resort. But the plans died when I-40 passed west of Hot Springs, leaving it off the beaten path. In recent years, the mineral baths have reopened. Although no resort hotel exists today, a campground is located across the street from the baths and cabins, and a small inn with suites is nearby.

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Entering Hot Springs, N.C. 209 (Lance Avenue) merges with U.S. 25/70 to become Bridge Street. On the right at the corner of Lance Avenue and Walnut Street is a historical marker commemorating the work of musical scholar Cecil Sharp, who visited the area in 1916 to collect mountain folk songs. On the hill beside the marker is the former home of Jane Gentry, who supplied many of the songs Sharp collected.

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Across from the marker, turn left and follow U.S. 25/70 (Bridge Street) as it heads up the hill. At the top, you will pass a large stone monument whose inscription says it was built “in loving memory of Robert E. Lee.” It also marks the route of the Dixie Highway, planned in 1914 as a “National Auto Trail” system that would connect the Midwest with the South. Constructed from 1915 to 1927, the trail was more a small network of paved roads than a single highway. In the late 1920s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed bronze plaques on granite pillars like this one to mark the route and honor Lee.

Behind the monument is a stately home constructed around 1902. In the 1950s, it became a Jesuit residence. By the 1970s, it was a retreat center. The Jesuit House of Prayer is still run for that purpose. The staff maintains the Hikers’ Hostel, used frequently by hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

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Follow U.S. 25/70 for 0.9 mile past the monument, then turn right onto Lookout Loop, a section of the old road that gives access to a home atop the high bluff overlooking the French Broad River Valley. The owners of the home were considerate enough to construct an overlook for those who wish to view the scenery.

In her book The French Broad, Wilma Dykeman explained how the river received its name. Some of the first white men to explore the region were long hunters, who spent extended periods in the wilderness on hunting expeditions. Those hunters named the river. Dykeman wrote,

The rivers must have impressed them by their width for they named them First and Second and English Broad. And when at last a party of these trail breakers climbed the Ridge and stood in a gap facing toward the unknown western land under control of France by way of the Mississippi, they looked at the new river they found in the valley just beyond the Blue Ridge and called it the French Broad. It flowed toward the lands and rivers owned by France; when a Long Hunter had gulped from a spring on the far side of the dividing mountains, he could say he had drunk of the French waters.

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Retrace the route to Bridge Street and turn left. On the left in the first block is Dorland Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in 1900. Dr. Luke Dorland came to Hot Springs in 1887 and opened a school under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. Many guests at the hotel contributed to the school, and its campus spread around the town. In 1918, the Dorland Institute merged with the Bell Institute, founded in nearby Jewel Hill. The Dorland-Bell Institute subsequently merged with the Asheville Farm School in 1942 to become Warren Wilson College, located in Swannanoa. Many of the buildings still standing in Hot Springs served as dormitories or classrooms for the original Dorland Institute. [Historic photo above shows students at Dorland-Bell Institute.]

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[The photos on the top row above show Mountain Magnolia Inn in 2011 and a view when it was the Rumbough home. The photo on the second row purportedly shows the Rumbough children and friends in the early 20th century.]

At the post office, turn left onto Spring Street. It is approximately 100 yards to a gravel road leading to Mountain Magnolia Inn, a beautifully restored bed-and-breakfast. When this magnificent Italianate Victorian mansion was built in 1868 for James and Carrie Rumbough, the owners of Mountain Park Hotel, it was known as Rutland. The restored home has been featured in Southern Living and This Old House and is well worth a side trip.

Return to Bridge Street and continue across the railroad tracks. On the left between the tracks and the French Broad River is a large sign for Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located on the former site of the Mountain Park Hotel. The building at the end of the drive is where visitors can arrange mineral baths and/or spa treatments.

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Continue across the bridge over the river. On the left is a historical marker for Paint Rock. Turn left just before the marker onto River Road, or Paint Rock Road (S.R. 1304). Circle back under the bridge. You will soon see signs for Nantahala Outdoor Center. Just past an area where rafters prepare to depart on the French Broad are signs for the Appalachian Trail and the Silvermine trailhead. The Silvermine Trail is a 1.6-mile loop that goes to an imposing rock bluff called Lover’s Leap.

Retrace your route under the bridge. On the left is a sign noting that this route was part of the Buncombe Turnpike.

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Across the street from the historic sign is the home built by Jeff Bruce in 1912 from a kit acquired from Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears promoted itself as "the largest home building organization in the world." It produced handsome catalogs with numerous floor plans and illustrations of interiors and exteriors. Supposedly, over 100,000 "kit" houses were built in the United States between 1908 and 1940. Expanding upon its forays into building materials and house plans, Sears entered the market for complete kit houses in 1908. After ordering directly from a catalog, buyers received all the necessary supplies in shipments by rail car (a typical house could fit into two boxcars) for assembly by the new homeowner or a local contractor. Following the stock-market crash in 1929, construction of the houses declined. Sears printed its last such catalog in 1940.

Continue straight on River Road, following the signs to Paint Rock. The scenic road parallels the French Broad. In 3.3 miles, the pavement ends. It is 1.1 miles to Murray Branch Recreation Area, which has picnic tables, restrooms, viewing stands along the river, and a trailhead across the road for the 1.3-mile River Ridge Loop Trail.

Continue 2.2 miles alongside the French Broad to one of the area’s best-known landmarks.

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[Photos of Paint Rock in 2011 and same formation when railroad ran alongside.]


In 1799, a commission was appointed to establish the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee once and for all. David Vance, Joseph McDowell, and Mussendine Matthews assembled at the Virginia border that May with surveyors James Strother and Robert Henry. The men worked their way south. Strother kept a daily journal that provides some of the best material available about early frontier life. On June 28, the men dropped a plumb line from the top of Paint Rock and established its height as 107 feet, three inches. Strother reported that Paint Rock “rather projects out,” and that “the face of the rock bears but few traces of its having formerly been painted, owing to its being smoked by pine knots and other wood from a place at its base where travellers have frequently camped. In the year 1790 it was not much smoked, the picture of some humans, wild beasts, fish and fowls were to be seen plainly made with red paint, some of them 20 and 30 feet from its base.” Strother also put to rest the argument voiced by some Tennesseans that the “painted rock” referred to in the Act of Cession—the act by which North Carolina ceded its western land for the creation of a new state--was farther downstream. Strother wrote that Paint Rock “has, ever since the River F. Broad was explored by white men, been a place of Publick Notoriety.”

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Continue just past Paint Rock to where the pavement begins again. You are now in Tennessee and have gone from Pisgah National Forest into Cherokee National Forest. After rounding Paint Rock and crossing the creek, you will reach a fork. Take Lower Paint Creek Road (F.R. 41), to the right. For the next 5 miles, the paved one-lane road follows the creek. Several camping and picnic areas are along the way. You will also see numerous fishermen during trout season, since the creek is stocked. The road is also called “the Paint Creek Corridor.” It follows the former Paint Mountain Turnpike, which 19th-century travelers used for their 14-hour journey between Asheville and Greeneville, Tennessee. During the early 1900s, the Patterson Lumber Company logged this area. The lumber company converted 4 miles of Paint Creek into flumes that carried logs to the French Broad River.

A picnic area and campground are located at the intersection with Hurricane Gap Road at the entrance to the corridor. Turn left and travel 1.7 miles to Rollins Chapel Road. Turn right and go 1.3 miles to the intersection with Asheville Highway (Tenn. 70). Turn right, heading back toward North Carolina. It is 3.3 miles to the state line, where the highway becomes N.C. 208 entering Madison County.

Continue 3.1 miles to a historical marker on the right. Early in the 19th century, a man named Allan kept a stand here where drovers could spend the night while driving their stock from Tennessee to the South Carolina and Georgia markets.

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The historical marker notes the Frances Goodrich Home, located across the road. From 1879 to 1882, Frances Goodrich studied art and painting at the Yale School of Fine Arts, the first art school at an American university and the first part of Yale to admit women. She later went to New York to be an artist. Sometime in the late 1880s, she decided to change her focus to social service.

In 1890, Goodrich came to the region as an unpaid assistant to a teacher sent by the Presbyterian Church to educate and convert the mountain people. She loved the nickname given to her by the localsāŽÆ“the Woman Who Runs Things.” Soon after arriving at Brittain’s Cove, she organized a meeting of local women at “The Library,” one of the small buildings she paid to have built. At one of these “mothers’ meetings,” as they were called, a local woman gave Goodrich a gift of a double-bowknot coverlet. She took the coverlet north to confirm what she suspected (that a large potential market existed for handmade quilts and coverlets. On a subsequent trip to Greeneville, Tennessee, to attend a presbytery meeting, Goodrich and her fellow travelers passed through Allanstand, named for the old drovers’ station. She had heard that it was possible to identify the local folk by the distinctive homespun red clothes they wore. Here was evidence that the old-time weaving tradition was still alive.

Goodrich had been searching for a way to help the mountain people without injuring their pride. By the end of 1897, she opened a school and a cottage, which quickly needed to be expanded. There, she began supervising the making of quilts and coverlets by local women. The first exhibition of the crafts of the Cottage Industries Guild was held in 1899. By 1908, Goodrich’s operation was called Allanstand Industries and had a shop in Asheville.

In 1931, to ensure that Allanstand would continue after her death, Goodrich gave her business to the recently formed Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild. The guild, still thriving today as the Southern Highland Craft Guild, sells its members’ wares in several locations in the area.

It is 2.8 miles to where N.C. 208 intersects N.C. 212.Turn right to stay on N.C. 208 for the next 3.5 miles. The route parallels Big Laurel Creek on the scenic drive to the intersection with U.S. 25/70. Turn left onto U.S. 25/70. It is approximately 30 miles south to Asheville.