Healing waters at Shelby Springs

Published 5:33 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

The Shelby Springs Resort, which was located between Calera and Columbiana, was Central Alabama’s most renowned resort.

People came from miles around to retreat to the area’s spring-fed pools for relaxation, as well as the healing of numerous ailments.

Long before Shelby County residents enjoyed the benefits of the healing waters at Shelby Springs, the area’s native inhabitants discovered the healing properties of the minerals contained in the waters there. There were six spring-fed pools on the property: three were sulfur, one limestone and two chalybeate (iron).

According to county records, the resort was in existence as early as 1839, when its owner, John S. Washington, advertised his resort in the Alabama Journal of Montgomery. The hotel wasn’t built until after the completion of the East Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia Railroad in 1855, which brought many more visitors to the area.

Much has been written to describe the beauty of the land at Shelby Springs. While lavish, ostentatious resorts were popping up all over the country, Shelby Springs was esteemed as a delightful, middle-class resort, its grounds exuding southern charm. Large oak and mulberry trees, occupied by a plethora of songbirds, lined the pathways to the hotel, cottages and the mineral water pools.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the resort’s owner leased the property to the Confederate Government. In 1862, it became a training center for Confederate soldiers, known as Camp Winn. In 1863, the hotel saw use as a hospital.

When the city of Vicksburg, Miss., was under siege by General Grant, the city’s hospital was moved to Shelby Springs. The Sisters of Mercy, who ran the hospital in Vicksburg, came to work at Shelby Springs, bringing sick and wounded soldiers with them by rail. Those who succumbed to their wounds and illnesses were buried in a nearby cemetery on a hill just above the hospital.

After the war, the resort was back in business and it became a very popular attraction, hosting more than 5,000 people for a political rally in 1871.

Several times, the hotel burned and was rebuilt on its original foundation. The last fire was in 1906.

The dining room was unharmed and it, along with the cottages, remained in use until the resort closed in 1915.

The current two-story, Georgian home was built by Capt. John Reid after he purchased the property in 1938. The home’s fireplace mantle was carved for William Taft.

Today, passers-by can still enjoy the view many Shelby Springs’ visitors wrote about.

The stately southern home is surrounded by a fence of climbing roses and green pastures, set against a backdrop of rich, green foliage.

Catherine Cousins writes a weekly column about the history of our county. Have an interesting historic topic? You can reach Cousins by e–mail at info@catherinecousins.com.