A Resort Built On Sulphur Springs - TribPapers

A Resort Built On Sulphur Springs

Sulphur Springs Historical Marker. Photo by Clint Parker.

West Asheville – Asheville’s roots as a tourist town go back two centuries or more, as can be seen by a state historical marker on the side of Patton Avenue (about where Patton turns into Smoky Park Highway.) in West Asheville.

The marker is set at the corner of Old Haywood Road and Patton Ave, and for those lucky enough to get caught by the light so they can read the marker, it says: Sulphur Springs – Health & social resort during the nineteenth century; patronized by low-country planters. Springs are 600 yds. S.

Sulphur Springs was much like the Grove Park Inn is today, though instead of catering to the rich, it served the middle to upper classes of the time. In an article by Virginia Gunn Fick and Richard D. Starnes from 2006 and revised in November of 2022, the report found on NCpedia states: “The Sulphur Springs Hotel near Asheville was typical of North Carolina’s antebellum resorts. Its chief attraction was a mineral spring of purported medicinal value…”

According to a sketch of the resort found on the NC Historical Markers website, “Sulphur Springs, which became a tourist attraction in the mid-nineteenth century, was discovered by Robert Henry and his slave in February 1827. Three years later, his son-in-law, Rueben Deaver, built a wooden hotel on the hill above the springs and began taking summer boarders. Patronage increased exponentially each year, and several additions were made to the hotel. By the 1840s, nearly 500 visitors were arriving each summer.     

“The majority of the visitors were low-country planters, including families such as the Pinckneys, Butlers, Pickens, Alstons, and Kerrisons. The Alstons reserved the corner rooms of the second floor from May to September every season. Besides the L-shaped hotel, Deaver also built several cabins, bowling pin alleys, billiard tables, and shuffleboards…but the hotel also offered guests gourmet food and drink, carriage rides to take in mountain scenery, a grand ballroom, and an orchestra of free black musicians.”

In his book Western North Carolina: A History, John P. Arthur wrote about two band members. “One of them, named Randall, had received $5,000 from the state of [South Carolina] for revealing a contemplated slave insurrection in Charleston. Laptitude, another black musician, was well educated and owned a plantation near Charleston as well as forty slaves.”

The NCpedia article goes on to say, “Enslaved people served as cooks, bellmen, waiters, and laundresses. Perhaps the most important attraction was the company of other white elites. Early resorts became seasonal centers of high culture where the gentry interacted, providing a social outlet that women, who often felt isolated on family plantations, particularly appreciated. Similar resorts developed at Shocco Springs in Warren County, Kittrell Springs in Vance County, and other locations.”

The sketch states, “In 1862, the hotel burned to the ground. The site was abandoned during the Civil War and Reconstruction, but in 1887 was rebuilt from brick by E. G. Carrier and named first Carrier Springs and then The Belmont under the direction of Dr. Karl Von Ruck of Ohio. From 1889 to 1894, a small electric railroad [better known as trolleys] ferried in tourists from Asheville to the site. However, in September 1891, a fire gutted the main hotel building. The site was entirely abandoned in 1894.”

Modern-day tourists can still enjoy mountain springs like the hot, inviting springs in the hills of Madison County. In the little town of, you guessed it, Hot Springs.