Crab Orchard Springs

Historical Marker #152 in Crab Orchard notes the popular mineral springs resort that operated there for almost one hundred years.

Kentucky, much like its mother-state Virginia, was home to numerous natural mineral springs. And, like Virginians, Kentuckians in the nineteenth century started a cottage industry in spas and resorts located around the springs, which drew people from near and far to bathe in the healing waters and enjoy fashionable society and entertainment.

One noted group of Kentucky mineral springs was located at Crab Orchard in Lincoln County. Crab Orchard took its name from a large crab apple orchard that grew adjacent to this section of the famous Wilderness Road, which ran from Hazel Patch to Logan's Station (also known as St. Asaph, now present day Stanford).

Eight natural mineral springs were located at Crab Orchard. Three of the springs contained iron-heavy water, two produced salt water, and three others provided different types of sulfur water. In 1827, entrepreneur Jack Davis established the first resort, and, by the 1860s, Crab Orchard Springs had developed into one of the most sought after hydrotherapy resorts in Kentucky. Advertisements ran in Kentucky newspapers touting the curative powers of the waters and offering information on stagecoach lines to the springs.

In 1871, a fire destroyed the main hotel building at Crab Orchard Springs, but, under the supervision of the site's owner, Isaac Shelby III, a new hotel was constructed that featured more than 250 rooms. Patrons to Crab Orchard Springs could find all types of entertainment while at the resort. Some guests preferred rougher and unseemly sports like cock fighting and gambling, while others chose more dignified diversions such as horse racing and boating.

Crab Orchard Springs thrived into the late nineteenth century. However, as American society became more independently mobile with the rise of the automobile, people sought out different forms of recreation and entertainment and turned away from the mineral bathing resorts. In 1897, the resort was purchased by Joe Willis, who operated it until 1922. After it closed, the hotel served as a school building. Today, not much remains of Crab Orchard Springs except for the memories and extant images of this once flourishing resort.