Tennessee State Library and Archives
Wish You Were Here: Retreat to Tennessee’s Historic Resorts


Most of Tennessee's earliest resorts grew up around mineral springs. The effectiveness of "water cure" or hydrotherapy had been touted since the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Empiricism of the 18th and 19th centuries revived the waning popularity of mineral waters and their curative potential amidst the craze for analyzing the minerals and gases present. Physicians of the period reveled in ascribing various health benefits to particular waters.

Books such as John Bell’s 1855 publication spread the word across the nation of some of the early “Tennessee Springs,” their chemical compositions, and their medicinal benefits.

View excerpts from The Mineral and Thermal Springs (TN pages from John Bell’s book)

Types of mineral waters were often described by the color of the precipitate formed by the water.  Other laymen maintain the denotation represents the color taken on by a silver coin immersed in the spring water—i.e., red, black, or white.  Claims varied, but red water was generally said to ease urinary tract disorders while black water addressed digestive complaints.

Note the lengthy section of “Testimonials of Physicians and Other Patrons of Galbraith Springs” hailing the various curative powers of the waters.  

View Galbraith Springs Pamphlet (Catalogued Library pamphlet)

Some of the most noted and sought after “healing springs” were located in the highlands of East Tennessee.  Indians and wildlife likely discovered these sites long before the appearance of white settlers in Tennessee. Visitors were making recorded treks to these locations as early as the 1790s.  The following Nashville Banner articles found in the Samuel Anderson Weakley Papers reveal the presence of such waters in the Nashville vicinity.

Perhaps the earliest Middle Tennessee resort was The Fountain of Health near The Hermitage, born of the 1811 New Madrid Earthquake.

The Earth Shook, and the Fountain of Health Was Born (TSLA Sketches-Places, “Fountain of Health,” Davidson Co., Tennessee, 1811-1826)

In addition to their healing properties, the watering spas or resorts offered an escape for the urban elite from the unhealthy summer cities.

Scrapbooks—Public Health—Nashville, Tennessee, 1874-1879

Thus, these resorts tended to develop at a more distant, safe location from major cities, as illustrated by Charles B. Thorne’s map in his 1970 Tennessee Historical Quarterly article “The Watering Spas of Middle Tennessee.”  He profiled thirty-one mineral spring resorts in Middle Tennessee and commented that there were surely more that had been overlooked.

Spring Houses

Examples of the variety of springs houses appearing at watering places across the state.  They run the gamut from the rustic to the ornate. 

  Red Boiling Springs Galbraith Springs  

Tennessee State Library and Archives
403 Seventh Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: 615.741.2997 Fax: 615.741.6471