Jerry Summers: McDonald Mineral Springs (1890-1933)

Thursday, February 18, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

A 2001 pamphlet by Mrs. Glen Carson Henry titled “McDonald & Environs” published by the Bradley County Historical Society in Cleveland, Tn., gives a history of the McDonald area's early hotels.

From around the 1880s to about 1933 there were six hotels and resorts that were erected to take advantage of the mineral spring water prevalent in McDonald.

The area became well known for its summer resort hotels, springs and cabins and it was claimed that “there are more springs in Bradley County than any other East Tennessee county.”

Baugh Springs, Mineral Springs, Powder Springs, Lauderback Springs and Tucker Springs were all widely visited resorts and each has its own unique history.

These areas became popular summer vacation spots and were available to accommodate the citizens to get out of the city and enjoy the fresh country air and fine spring water for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Each of the five springs contained a wide variety of minerals which resulted in them being used for the treatment of different ailments.

A map prepared by Ed Townsend in March 1997, which is included in Mrs.

Glen Carson Henry’s book, lists the location of the six hotels on pages 44 and 45.

Baugh Springs was located about five miles northwest of the McDonald community in the extreme western part of Bradley County at the base of White Oak Mountain. There were two springs and it had rental cabins instead of a hotel.

The springs contained iron, arsenic, magnesium sulfur and other minerals.

It was popular with health seekers from Tennessee and other states.

The meaning of the springs had some mystique about it as to original owner Michael Baugh, who was murdered by three individuals while he was serving as Justice of the Peace. They were convicted and hung in Bradley County.

The 1957 movie “Wild River” included some scenes filmed at Baugh Springs and featured Montgomery Clift and actress Lee Remick.

As recently as 1997 one of the small rental cabins remained in a decaying state along the creek bank although the spring had been covered by trees that had been blown over.

Lauderback Springs Hotel - located at an elevation of 1,100 feet - was near three springs that produced chalybeate (made of iron) waters.

In 1905 the Lauderback Springs Hotel was built on a spur on top of White Oak Mountain three miles southwest of McDonald.

It was a two-story building with 29 rooms, a basement and wrap around porches but no electricity.

Several different springs bubbled up and contained a variety of minerals, while one poured forth cool water with no ingredients.

On one occasion a murder trial was held by Chattanooga Judge Sam McReynolds whose wife was staying at the hotel because of her health. It was held in the hotel living room.

Hotel visitors came by train from Chattanooga to the McDonald depot. Because of the steep elevation they were met by a horse-drawn surrey that carried them to and from the hotel.

The hotel operated until 1942-1943 and was a popular location with delicious family-style menus and weekly square dances. For years Lauderback Springs was the central gathering place for the young people of the McDonald area, especially on Sunday afternoons.

The hotel burned on Friday night, July 29, 1960.

Mineral Springs Inn was located three miles west of McDonald on U.S. Highway 11 (Lee Highway and 18 miles east of Chattanooga on what was the Southern Railroad line.

The hotel was built around 1910, had 23 rooms and cabins and a dome pavilion.

It was open year around and its main amenity was its location next to the railroad line.

There were more than 40 springs in the complex and an investigation and analysis revealed that there was a greater variety of mineral substances in the springs than were found in any other site in the United States.

From 1910 to 1912 Mineral Park was the site of the encampment of the Ocoee Baptist Association and attracted over 500 members to its meetings.

Due to the popularity and success of the various spring resorts in Bradley there was a major expansion with the sale of lots.

As business declined, Mineral Park Springs was sold through an auction of property which consisted of the hotel, springs, 10 cabins and adjoining property that included 60 acres of lots. The total parcel of 99 acres sold for slightly more than $12,000.

Many plans were considered to renovate and develop the springs but the era of the hotel came to an end on March 2, 1933, when the facility burned.

Although grown up in weeds, it was reported in 1947 that the springs were still open.

However, in another alleged sign of progress, in 1982 a bulldozer covered up the springs while preparing a utility line.

Powder Springs was located about 10 miles of Tucker Springs and continued mineral water containing chiefly iron, which was thought to be good for stomach trouble.

It was not heavily developed and consisted primarily of log cabins situated about three-fourths of a mile in dense woodland.

Two large rustic two-story cabins were located about two and a half miles east of McDonald across Bryer Creek. It was alleged Bryer was a deep creek and was enjoyed for swimming.

Popular as a resort in the 1920s, it later became a popular camping area for Boy Scouts.

Tucker Springs was occupied by Cherokee Indians in 1837. The Tucker Springs Hotel was allegedly built sometime after the Civil War and it and the springs were named after the great-grandmother, Polly Hagler Tucker, of the Summerfield Johnson family that today owns the large Bendabout Farms.

The Tucker Hotel opened in June 1887 near the two springs on the property to accommodate the public. One was a chalybeate spring and the other was freestone.

The two-story hotel was built on a hill just east of the springs. There were also a number of cabins that were privately owned nearby.

It was a popular locale and enjoyed a brisk business that resulted in a three-story hotel opening in June 1891.

Grand balls were held and the hotel expanded services.

The hotel company was also concerned about the educational and spiritual interests as well as the physical well-being of its patrons.

Elaborate plans were proposed, and some came into being while others did not.

There were a few unfavorable events in the history of the hotel. In 1893 several policemen were arrested for misbehaving and in 1897 three Negro men were arrested for breaking into the hotel and stealing jewelry items.

A post office designated as Tucker in 1892 was renamed Tucker Springs in October 1903.

A railroad depot had been established around the turn of the century by the Southern Railroad but was removed around the 1920s though trains continued to run.

Perhaps the largest event at the hotel was on June 11, 1896 when over 8,000 members of the Chattanooga Grocers travelled by train to the area and had their annual picnic.

Unfortunately, the area had its share of shady dealings. In the Prohibition Era in 1924 and 1925 some of the five-gallon milk containers sent to Chattanooga by rail were filled with four gallons of illegal whiskey.

Eventually the property was sold to a black ministers association around 1921 but they were unable to pay for the facility and it lay idle until 1939 until it was purchased by Summerfield Johnson. Thus it returned to the original family. It has been preserved and maintained as a model showplace.

Each of the five springs described herein are part of the rich historical fabric of Bradley and Hamilton counties.

 

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Railroad depot at Tucker Springs
Railroad depot at Tucker Springs

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