Hopkins County Folk Lore
Dawson Springs, KY Famous Resort City
By Contributing Editor, Carolyn BuntinEveland
W.I. Hamby discovered the first mineral well in the Dawson Springs area in 1881. Thirty or so years before that time the area was a farm with "but a house or two in evidence." Mr. Hamby owned a hotel known of course as the Hamby Hotel. In June of 1893 he was drilling for water to accommodate his hotel when he struck the second well. It was said that this well could water 100,000 or more people on a daily basis. This very famous well became known as Hamby's Salts, Iron and Lithia Well.
People came from all over the United States and abroad to sample the cures offered by the mineral waters in this city. Trade and tourism flourished and Hamby's Well put Dawson Springs on the map.
The DAWSON SALTS & WATER CO.'S Bottling Works, the Home of Hamby's Genuine Dawson Springs Water became big business. The water was shipped in five-gallon size Glass Demijohns, or by the quarts in cases of 24 to 50 bottles a case. Carbonated water and concentrated salts (Hamby's Liver Regulating Salts) were sold by the half-pint, pints and also in the seven ounce size.
Hotels, boarding houses, spas and mineral baths sprung up all over the place and people told tales of amazing cures afforded by the miracle waters. Bright's Disease, Liver and Gall Bladder, Rheumatism, Heart Trouble, Constipation and Dropsy were just a few of the ailments that plagued the people who came here hoping to find relief. Printed testimonials detailing the wonderful successes achieved through partaking of the water were distributed nation wide and in return the nation's people flocked to Dawson Springs. Physicians abounded in Dawson and even those medical doctors from across the United States recommended the mineral waters to their patients. A few of those physicians were: F.M. JACKSON, H.R.BOITNOTT, C.A.NILES, LULA B MARTIN, R.L. HARDY, A.P. WATERS, CHAS. C. MARTIN, and I.E. NICHOLS.
Chemists analyzed the water at Dawson Springs and their findings were published as endorsements for the healing powers found in the natural mineral waters. A couple of these chemists were: A.C. LYONS, Chief Chemist, and J.P. BARNUM, M.D., Chemist. The town's newspaper, the Dawson Tribune was printed weekly and touted by themselves as the best weekly newspaper in west KY and published in the best health resort in the USA!
The promoters of Dawson Springs also billed themselves as The Convention City. Pharmaceutical, oratorical, and medical organizations held their annual conventions in the city. Banking associations, the Kentucky Press and grand lodges and companies of all types reserved space in the community's countless hotels and boarding houses in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The New Century Hotel alone offered five hundred rooms, barber shop, spa, restaurant and other shops within its confines. The Dawson Springs Salts and Water Co. Store hosted a jewelry department, a soda fountain, cigar stand and of course Dawson Springs Genuine Water.
Patients came to "the Springs" by car, wagon and the Illinois Central Railroad. Many of the hotels and boarding houses were built along side the tracks so those weary, ailing travelers could depart the train right at the front door of the hotel. Several of the hotels were equipped with staff and equipment for administering the waters and even provided mineral baths with "wraps" for the lodgers.
The patients who came to heal sick bodies could also pamper the psyche with any number of activities in the area. The Tradewater River flowed through the city. The river is now little more than a stream in most places but in the 1900's it was sufficiently clear of logs and debris for the most gallant of boat outings. Large canopied boats complete with carved side railings and steered by an oarsman at the rear of the craft were popular excursions. These vessels could hold twenty five to thirty people at a time. I'm quite sure more people could have been accommodated in these clever recreational river crafts if not for the ladies billowing petticoats and wide brimmed hats. Rental canoes were also to be had for those with more adventurous spirits. The Old Mill Dam also provided ample sites along the banks, which were ideal for picnickers. The moderate waterfall and surrounding scenery were made to order for a leisurely lunch in the fresh air.
Other outdoor activities included hunting in the nearby woods for Quail and other wild game in season. There were numerous cliffs and bluffs in close proximity to Dawson Springs and people hiked the trails visiting Bandit Cave and Lovers' Rest continuously in good weather. The bluffs were called New Century Cliffs in those days. Horseback riding on Kentucky Thoroughbreds was another favorite pastime as was motoring in the wild flower fields around the town.
Ingenious entrepreneurs even cashed in on the county's coalmines to add coins to their pockets. Small open cars holding ten or 12 visitors took curious on-lookers inside the mines and beneath the earth's surface for a look at the industry of coal mining. As the gentry always dressed for these occasions, I can just see the soot smeared summer dresses of the ladies and the white shirts and straw hats worn by the men upon leaving the mines. Modern technology was not lacking here in Dawson by any means. The Auditorium - Chataquas, presented Entertainments and Moving Pictures ensuring many a memorable night for the visitors and locals too. Arcadia Park had it's own well and pump. It was the perfect place for a shady stroll and to partake of the healing waters. It was located across the street from the Hamby Hotel and Well on Main Street.
No need to miss a Sunday service while one was visiting the resort town. Churches were plentiful with various denominations represented in the community. Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Christian among other faiths welcomed visitors from across the nation.
Dawson Springs was also the training grounds for baseball teams, the Pittsburg Pirates and the Columbus Senators. The teams partook of the water while in training in hopes of promoting good health and energy to the players. Training quarters for the Pirates were erected and the tourists and townspeople watching the players in action spent many a sunny afternoon at the ballpark. Dawson Springs also promoted their own local team as well as the high school's baseball team. Baseball became a big drawing card for the little resort city on the Tradewater River and people traveled far and wide to attend games and view the Pirates in training exercises.
The locals in surrounding communities also benefited from the crowds of health seekers that came to the wells. Tobacco was big business in western Kentucky. Tobacco farmers took their crops to tobacco warehouses in Dawson Springs for sell on the open market. The many hotel proprietors required great quantities of vegetables and meats for their guests. Farmers had a ready market for the poultry, beef, pork and garden varieties produced on their land.
The resort city of Dawson Springs is today a sleepy little town with no leftover trappings from the heyday of the bygone era. There are no tourists or health seekers that stroll the downtown streets. The hotels have vanished, as has Arcadia Park, the Movie Theater and boat rides on the Tradewater River. The town hosts no conventions and traffic is not congested along Main Street and Hamby's Well. Indeed there are no traffic lights in the entire city limits. You won't find departments stores or Wal-Mart either. A lone Dollar Store serves the purpose of shopping in the city. There are several grocery stores, auto parts and numerous churches. There are also quite a few vacant stores in the town. A couple of pharmacies and a medical clinic see to the needs of the ailing residents. There are a few factories located there but most of the plants have been relocated in the last few years. A few restaurants offer inside dining featuring down-home cooking and the finest Bar B Q east of the Mississippi.
What you will find is a town with a dedication to preserving the past and building for the future. A new ballfield has been constructed along the Old Mill Dam site and historical renovations are planned for some of the downtown buildings and streets. The school system is reported to be one of the best in Hopkins County and a library lends itself to the needs of the community. A museum located in the old bank building takes you back into the glory days when Dawson Springs was famous.
If you enjoy the quaintness of small towns you might like to visit this little community. Take in a ballgame at the community park or the new ballfield. Find a high seat on the bleachers. Stretch out your legs and just relax. You will hear children laughing, parents rooting for their favorite player, the smell of hotdogs and relish in the air. Looking over the activities on the playing field, it might not require any stretch of the imagination to see those suited players of yesteryear once again taking the field. Seated in the stands are pretty ladies with long, flowing dresses along side men with straw hats and high starched collars enthusiastically cheering them on.
For a photo slide show of Dawson Springs then and now put together by Nancy Trice, please go to: http://www.rootsweb.com/~kyhopkin/slides/dawson/
For more stories of Hopkins County Lore please visit us at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~kyhopkin/lore/
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Nancy Trice, © 2000