A Nostalgic Glance at Austin Springs Hotel from 1897 to 1905

Today's column shines the big yesteryear spotlight on the long deceased Austin Spring Hotel. It became one of Johnson City's premier resort and vacation hostelry. The East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad once tabbed it as one of the finest vacation spots that could be reached by their railroad.

In 1897, a meeting was held in the office of Dr. J.W. Cox by a number of citizens who took an interest in raising fine stock and poultry. A decision was made to hold a three-day fair at Austin Springs for July 28, 29 and 30.

This was the first fair by this association ever held in the county. The officers were Cox, president; M. Jackson and E.C. Baldwin, vice presidents; Harry D. Gump, secretary and treasurer; and Henry George, general manager.

Directors included several well-known public spirited businessmen: Paul Wofford, Weldon DeVault, Tate L. Earnest, W.C. Snapp, Walter Faw and Shade Harris. These gentlemen injected a heavy dose of backbone into the enterprise.

Premiums were offered in several rings: Best saddle gelding, best saddle mare, best harness mare, best harness gelding, best saddle stallion, best brood mare, best sucking colt, best pair of mare mules, best pair of horse mules, best Jersey milch cow, best short horn milch cow, best boy rider under 15 years old, best lady rider and best pair of goats attached to a wagon.

The first premium of each ring consisted of 80 per cent of the entries for that ring; the remaining 20 percent was  awarded as a second premium. General Manager Henry George prepared a premium list and other information regarding the fair.

Poultry displays were conducted daily with the popular baby show being held on the last day of the three-day spectacle. A special track was constructed at the site to allow a daily bicycle race; merchants and others provided premiums for the winners.

Austin Springs was described as being one of the loveliest places in all the country (yes country). It further was said to have the best assortment of entertainment ever offered to the public. The hotel at the springs was open, which included the immaculately cultivated grounds. Mr. George provided dinner to everybody attending the event for a nominal fee. Also, hotel accommodations were available for those desiring an extended stay.

Two Old Advertisements for the Austin Springs Hotel

In 1903, Austin Springs was ready for “the good old summer time.” The opening ball was successfully launched, being received by an appreciative public. The weather man could have been a bit kinder but dancing could not have been more pleasant. To the music of McLeod's Orchestra, the devotees of Terpsichore (dancing and choral singing) tripped the light fantastic toe until the wee hours of morning. The new dancing pavilion and the elegant refreshments were entirely satisfactory and much enjoyed by many well-known society people.

One year later, E.G. Earnest became the new manager of the popular facility. He was described as being in good health and fine spirits. He noted how successful the business was. Unfortunately, some over-scrupulous individual circulated a phony report that he was bedridden with typhoid fever and the resort was closed. Earnest posted an ad (see my photo column) in the newspaper stating that the lodge was open and planned to stay that way.

Mr. Earnest had a closed contract for the lease of the property. His plans called for enlarging the mineral springs surrounding the hotel and installing additional baths in the hotel. Vacationers then often shared common bathroom facilities.    

In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Johnson posted an unusual rhyme in the newspaper, inviting the public to attend a party honoring two special guests at the springs:

“On Wednesday night, the twenty-third, About the hour of eight, Will Johnson and the Mrs. Too. Now don't forget the date, To a country party will welcome you, At Austin Springs Hotel. Come dressed in calico or jeans, Work clothes will do as well. The good will find amusement there, And the dancers watch with awe. Miss Scarborough is one honored guest, Another is Mrs. Faw.”