Dawson Springs

In a time when Indian tribes and white settlers were not the best of friends, to say the least, a small village that would come to be known as Dawson Springs, located on a river, served as neutral ground for the two groups.

The banks of the stream provided a place for Indians and settlers to barter skins and other goods. Because of the service it provided it became known as the "Tradewater River."

The town of Dawson took its name from the family that purchased the 250-acre tract of land in 1869. The discovery of natural springs in the area in 1881 and 1893 led to the substantial growth of the village and lent the name Dawson Springs to the small town.

As the reputation of the springs and their beneficial minerals spread, Dawson Springs became a flourishing resort town. People came from all parts of the world to partake of the mineral waters and enjoy Dawson Springs' 40 hotels.

Visitors to the town seemed to be naturally attracted to the Tradewater River. Many took trips up-stream on the "White City," an excursion boat, or rented canoes and small boats for lazy journeys on the river.

Over the years the town has had its "15 minutes of fame."

In the early 1900s Dawson Springs was home to what was described as the most fabulous showplace in Western Kentucky, the New Century Hotel. Among the hotel's many attractions were running water, steam heat, a ballroom and three-piece Italian orchestras.

A new wing was added to the hotel to accommodate the Pittsburgh Pirates when they came to Dawson Springs for spring training from 1915 to 1917. Other teams, such as the Cincinnati Reds, also chose the town for training.

In the early 1920s the coal mining industry began to grow in Dawson Springs and gave the town its livelihood for nearly 40 years.

When the coal mines closed, citizens made plans to keep their town alive. Industrial parks were established, Lake Beshear was constructed and the water works system was expanded.

Once again, the citizens of Dawson Springs are determined to make their town the best it can be.

Mayor Stacia Peyton said people will begin to see many changes in the town during the next few months.

The city recently received a grant for $20,000 to build a walking trail along the Tradewater River and a new boat ramp was opened in July.

A $40,000 park grant has helped provide the city with new playground equipment and lights.

The downtown area of Dawson Springs is also receiving a facelift. There are plans to restore many of the historic buildings there to their original state.

The city has also just adopted planning and zoning which means that certain parts of the town will be zoned for specific types of businesses or residence.

"For some reason the town never had planning and zoning, so we ended up with buildings being stuck here and there with no real thought put into it," Peyton said. "With the new plan there will be specifications that will have to be met throughout the town."

Aside from the recent changes in the town, there are also some projects slated for the future.

Main Street Chairwoman Jennie Sewell said the town is looking as far as four or five years into the future with plans for a mural project and the writing of a play to depict the town's rich history.

Sewell said the mural project will consist of having citizens of the town submit ideas about historically significant events that have occured in the town over the years and then choosing the subject of the mural from those submissions. After the choice has been made a muralist will come in and work with school children of all ages in order to complete the mural.

In keeping with the preservation of Dawson Springs history there are plans to write and perform a play about the life of Dawson's New Century Hotel. The complete history of the hotel is being collected and based on that the play will depict life in the town at the height of the spa era.

The numerous projects in the town are meant to not only beautify the town, but to attract more tourists.

"During the time of the New Century, 50,000 people came here between June and September every year," Peyton said. "We want to see people come here again."

This feature story originally appeared in the The Messenger in the small towns section of their "Changing Face of Hopkins County" on September 6, 1996 and was written by Slone Hutchison, a summer intern from Murray State University working with The Messenger to gain practical news papering skills during her summer vacation.

My thanks to The Messenger for granting permission to publish on the Hopkins County, Kentucky KyGenWeb page.

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Nancy Trice
Hopkins County, Ky

© 1997