Olympian Springs

Historical Marker #1342 at Olympian Springs in Bath County notes the history of this fashionable and well-attended resort, which served patrons for more than one hundred years.

The fascination with mineral springs and their perceived curative powers began shortly after European colonists arrived in the New World. By the end of the eighteenth century, visiting mineral springs was at the height of fashion for the well-to-do. Olympian Springs was frequented for its medicinal properties, yet it also hosted a number of other outdoor entertainment activities as well as lavish parties and dinners.

The land where the springs were located, originally called Mud Lick, changed ownership many times. William Ramsey was the first owner to make improvements in 1791. He built several cabins for visitors, yet most of his interest was in mining salt from the springs, a venture that proved unsuccessful. In the early 1800s, Thomas Hart, the father-in-law of Henry Clay, purchased the land and renamed it Olympian Springs, after nearby Mount Olympus. Upon Hart's death, Henry Clay sold the land to Colonel Thomas Deye Owings.

Guests flocked to the waters of Olympian Springs to cure ailments such as skin rashes and digestive discomfort. The site also functioned as a tourist destination due to the fresh air, beautiful mountain scenery, and for the growing social scene. Access to the hotel and resort was very important, yet, even ten years after the American Revolution, the roads of Kentucky consisted of buffalo traces and Native American trails. On August 9, 1803, John Kennedy, an aspiring business man, announced the opening of a stage coach route connecting Lexington to Olympian Springs. Investing $2,000 in stage coaches and horses, Kennedy mapped a forty-seven mile route that took customers from Lexington to the resort. The route proved successful, and soon even the mail was carried via stage coach. The people of Lexington used this stagecoach route to escape the city in 1833 when an epidemic of cholera swept through the area.

When the Civil War erupted, the resort served as a recruiting and training ground for Union regiments. Olympian Springs also witnessed a skirmish between the 1st Kentucky Cavalry and about 250 Confederate horsemen in October 1863.

After the Civil War, medical patients began to rely more on science and pharmaceuticals to cure their ailments and lesson hydrotherapy. This fact, along with the improvement of transportation systems to other vacation spots, diminished the patronage to Olympian Springs. Unable to support itself, the resort land was sold off in pieces in 1946.