Unaka Springs Hotel was located about 18 miles from Johnson City in Unicoi County, a few miles past Erwin along a mountainous portion of the Nolichucky River. The river was originally named Nolachucky, meaning “Rushing Water.”
There were two ways to arrive at the springs. A hack/a horse for hire that could be used for riding or driving could be rented; the hack line from Jonesboro would take a half day. The last couple of miles along the river included breathtaking views. Some preferred a journey by train. A time card from 1893 shows Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio’sRailroad’s “No. 1 Daily” leaving Johnson City’s Carnegie Depot at 7:30 a.m., traveling to Okolona, Fagans, Marbleton, Rose Hill, Unicoi, Erwin; and arriving at Unaka Springs at 8:45 a.m. Rather than a half day’s ride, the journey was an hour and a quarter.
This site of the mineral springs included a wide view of nature with ears filled with the soothing, river waters. Mountain peaks enclosed the gorge, so a sense of peace fell on the guests.
Unaka Springs was considered one of the finest mineral springs in the south. Chalybeate water became popular with folks who believed in its health enhancing qualities. A physician from early times gave a unique description of it: “The colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly; loosened the clammy humours of the body; and dried the over-moist brain.” He further stated in rhyme: “These waters youth in age renew, Strength to the weak and sickly add, Give the pale cheek a rosy hue, And cheerful spirits to the sad.” (Quite a claim, wouldn’t you say?!?)
Built in 1899, the hotel was a three-story frame structure with modern plumbing and a full porch along the front. There were forty rooms, with a bathroom on each floor. Rental rates were $2/day, $10/week and $30/month. An ad from that era firmly stated, “no consumptives.” And then there’s the pleasure of fishing, hunting, boating and being serve all you can eat.
The railroad had an office on the premises, where guests could be rail tickets or send and receive telegrams. The train schedules were such that day trips were possible; Sunday School picnics and Sunday dinner at the hotel were popular.
Mountain climbing before lunch, swimming in the river in the afternoon, and dancing after dinner were daily activities. For church on Sunday, someone played hymns, rather than dance tunes. Rocking chair sitting was conducive to visiting, politicking, or courting. The manager made his rounds, with an oil lamp in hand, to be sure all the rockers and benches were empty each night at 10:30.
A July 1889 “Comet” newspaper article asked the question, “Where are you going to spend the month of August?” Often the answer was. “Unaka Springs Hotel! Mr. A. V. Deaderick’s place, just like last year.”
Then in the 1950’s, the hotel closed. Another era vanished
―Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now