Unaka Springs Hotel


Touted as a “fashionable resort” in the “vacation paradise” of East Tennessee, the Unaka Springs Hotel was a much sought-after destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Mineral springs were the panacea of the day and believed to have curative powers.  The cream-colored stationery, with a photo of the hotel and a full ad, states: “Situated on the banks of the beautiful Nolla Chucky River, right in the heart of the Unaka Mountains, where you can breathe the pure air that blows through the tops of the tall pines, gathering soothing properties which produce sleep and rest that nature alone can provide.  Here you find one of the finest mineral springs in the south.”  The advertisement boasts that the water, “if taken as directed, will greatly benefit any case of indigestion.”  The water was also “shipped to all points” for $5.00 per barrel.

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Transportation to the hotel consisted of taking a train to Chestoa via the Chicago, Cincinnati & Charleston Railway (the three C's, which would later become the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio), then hiring a hack to ford the Nolichucky River.  Hacks were available from Johnson City or Jonesborough. The hotel was approximately 18 miles from Johnson City.  An ad, in the July 1892 edition of The Comet, a Johnson City newspaper, stated, “electric cars at Johnson City make connection with all trains. Two trains daily to the springs.”  Trains significantly reduced the travel time as hacks took half a day.  Rail tickets could be purchased at a ticket and telegraph service in the lobby of the hotel, according to James A. Goforth in his book, Erwin Tennessee: A Pictorial History, 1891-1929.

Proprietors of Unaka Springs Hotel in 1889 were A. V. (Dot) and Adeline Deaderick.  Their daughter, Mrs. Charles Lyle, shared with Dorothy Hamill of the Johnson City Press Chronicle, memories of her childhood spent at the hotel in an undated newspaper article from the Murrell Family Collection in the Archives of Appalachia.  Before the Deadericks arrived in the late 19th century, a smaller hotel had been torn down and a larger hotel was built.  James A. Goforth describes the hotel as “a three-story, wood-frame structure with a porch extending across the front.”  Extremely modern for the times, this new hotel had 40 rooms and one bathroom on each floor.  The train track, originally built very close to the porch, was moved farther away from the hotel to allow for a large lawn and fountains.  

Regularly advertised in The Comet, the Unaka Spring Hotel offered “home like accommodations, terms reasonable.” Each room had a bowl and pitcher.  Ladies would gather in a group in the evenings and take a smaller pitcher to the spring for water.  Meals were hearty and plentiful, with people traveling by train from Johnson City to dine, then returning home the same day.  According to Mrs. Lyle, this was considered quite the outing!

Provision for the ultimate in rest, relaxation, and enjoyment of nature was the top priority.  Various venues were made available to guests for this pursuit.  Benches, constructed out of rhododendron by Mack Deaderick, son of the proprietors, were spaced throughout the trees which led to the famous springs.  Any time of day guests could go out to the front porch, choose their favorite rocking chair, and participate in lively conversation.  Mrs. Lyle stated there was “sitting and rocking, smoking and politicking.”  

For those needing more vigorous exercise, “dancing, bathing [swimming], mountain climbing (Clift Ridge) and general amusement” were offered.  Guests were “decently covered in the bathing dresses of the day.”  General amusement consisted of rocking on the porch, watching the trains come and go, and participating in talent shows.  Some guests enjoyed walking across the train trestles which crossed the river.

Dances included the waltz and the two-step, and a “dreadful modern one frowned upon” by Mrs. Deaderick, the tango.  The same piano played for the dances was also played for hymns on Sunday.  There were often Sunday school classes on the porch and sermons preached in the evenings if “a pastor happened to be there.” 

Mrs. Lyle said that each evening around 10:30, her brother Mack would “make his rounds with a lantern to see that the ‘sparking’ benches were unoccupied!”

The hotel was highly successful until business dropped during the Depression.  An access road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and business picked up once again.  The hotel closed in the 1950s, and only a portion of it, which is now privately owned, remains today.

Photographs and postcards of the hotel are available in the James Agee Film Project Photographs, Burr Harrison Photographs, and Ridley Wills East Tennessee Postcard Collection, all of which are also available digitally.  The photographs highlight how the railroad tracks were laid directly in front of the original hotel door so that customers could disembark onto the porch of the hotel.  They also show the beauty of the surrounding area with the rough-timbered railroad trestle crossing over the Nolichucky River.

Newsclippings referenced above are from the Johnson City Press Newsclippings and The Comet newspaper housed in the Archives of Appalachia. 

Unaka Springs Hotel