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Cumberland Springs was once a popular resort

Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 12:51 pm

By Joe M. Casey                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Originally Published Thursday, July 5, 2015

The Moore County News

Cumberland Springs was once a popular and well-known summer resort, situated in a heavily wooded valley near the headwaters of the Hurricane Creek, in the tenth district of Moore County.

It was originally developed by John C. Ray, who lived at Flat Creek in Bedford County, as a mineral resort in the 1870s. At that time it was known as Ray’s Spring.

           The Ray family spent their summers there.  Mr. Ray owned and also operated a gristmill at Cumberland Springs.

Seven springs were said to be located in a 14 foot square space so that one might stand in the center and drink seven different mineral waters.  The spring trickled from limestone, freestone, yellow sulfur, iron, alum, white sulfur, black sulfur and “mixed water” for consumption.

In 1898, the Pearson family acquired the property and renamed it Cumberland Springs because of its location in the Cumberland foothills.  The Pearsons operated a sawmill for several years, cutting timber from the dense woodlands around the springs.

A few years later the property was sold to Elijah M. Riddle and it was under his ownership and planning that a public summer resort was opened.

A dam was constructed to enlarge the tiny lake and several small cabins were built.  Over time, there grew to be more than 60.  Many of the cabins had porches to allow guests to take the cool fresh country air from the comfort of a rocking chair.  Mr. Riddle also added a dance hall, skating rink and bowling alley for the pleasure of his vacationers.

Between 1900 and 1910 Cumberland Springs was an entertaining place to be in the summer with young couples strolling hand-in-hand, people fishing, boating and swimming in the lake.

There were very few cars so people came to Tullahoma by train and hired a horse drawn buggy from the livery stable to transport them to the resort for a few days or a week.

The late Lant Wood (1881-1973), local historian and employee of Jack Daniel Distillery, remembered the early days of Cumberland Springs and its owner well.

“Some of the springs ran onto a shale shelf that had small basins in it.  There was an area about ten square feet where you could taste all the different kinds of water.  I remember I would go around all the basins and take a cup from each one,” he recalled.

According to Mr. Wood, the water of the springs was proclaimed to have healing powers by some. “It was a powerful stimulant, it sharpened the appetite and aided in digestion and cured a variety of stomach ailments and offering strength and vigor to the weak and desponding.”

Those were the glory days for Cumberland Springs. About 1916, shortly before World War I, Mr. Riddle decided to sell and Cumberland Springs Resort was put on the New York market which was a very unusual thing, according to Mr. Wood.

The buyer was Lem Motlow, owner of Jack Daniel Distillery, which was closed at the time because of prohibition.

Motlow made many additions including a hotel on the west side of the lake.  A swinging wire bridge was built across the lake for access to the hotel, which looked like a home and was two stories high with ten or twelve rooms, according to Wood.  Mr. Wood helped build the hotel and some of the cabins.  Mr. Motlow used the hotel in the years after World War I as a place for private entertaining, inviting judges, executives and his political friends to spend a few days relaxing.

In 1920, the dam that was built by Lige Riddle broke and washed out, flooding the whole hurricane community downstream.  Mr. Motlow had the dam rebuilt, erecting a larger concrete dam 33 feet across the narrow canyon of Hurricane Creek, forming a larger lake for fishing, boating and swimming.

There was a walk-way across the dam to the hotel, where picnic grounds were added and a round concrete springhouse was built at the springs.  Mr. Motlow also built a gristmill beside the dam for grinding wheat and corn into flour and meal.  The mill operated until the early days of World War II.  The superintendent of construction for the Cumberland Springs dam was William Oscar Hooper, who also constructed the Farmers Bank in 1921.

During World War II, the Cumberland Springs area was leased to the U.S. government to be used as Army artillery firing range and maneuver area by soldiers from Camp Forrest at Tullahoma.  People traveling from Lynchburg to Tullahoma on the old highway during those days had to detour onto Ledford Mill Road when the artillery range was being used to reach Tullahoma.  Mr. Motlow owned about 8,000 acres of land around Cumberland Springs.  After the war, the land was leased to the State of Tennessee to create Cumberland Springs Wildlife Management Area.  The Motlow family donated about 187 acres of land in 1968 for the construction of Motlow State Community College.

Lewis D. Holder (1872-1930) and his wife Mary L. (Smith) Holder (1871-1946) moved their family to Cumberland Springs about 1918 to manage the summer resort for Mr. Motlow.

In addition, Mr. Holder operated a grocery store at Cumberland Springs. Claudie Lee Holder (1911-2001) and Mrs. Suvella (Holder) Carrol (1907-2002), son and daughter of the Holders, related to this writer their memories of living at Cumberland Springs during their childhood in the 1920s.

Claudie Lee Holder said he was born in 1911 and was about seven years old when he moved there.  He remembered some big events being held there and said the resort had a hotel and about 64 cabins, which his father rented to people who came from all over the U.S. and beyond to visit this area.

He said wooden boats were rented for fishing or a pleasure ride on the lake.  He also remembered the skating rink and the bowling alley.  Mr. Holder especially had fond memories of the Fourth of July ceremony hold every year with an all day BBQ and a dance that night with fireworks.  Hundreds of people attended the celebration coming by horseback, buggies, farm wagons and cars.  Some brought their lunch and stayed all day

Mr. Holder and Mrs. Carroll both remembered happy days of attending Mount Ethel Baptist Church and School located near Cumberland Springs. They both attended school at Mt. Ethel during the week and church service on Sunday.  The building burned sometime during the 1920s.

Mr. Holder also remembered helping his father deliver flour and meal in a horse-drawn wagon from the gristmill to the stores in Tullahoma.  At that time all the streets of Tullahoma were gravel.

He said that almost every Saturday Lem Motlow would come out to Cumberland Springs riding a big, beautiful horse to check on everything at the resort.

About 1947 the writer of this article helped paint, wallpaper and decorate the hotel building, which was being used at the time by the Motlow brothers as a weekend retreat.

The old hotel building was burned by fire about 1960.  A picnic pavilion was built back on the site of the hotel and used primarily as picnic grounds for Jack Daniel employees.  The interior of the gristmill building beside the dam was destroyed in a fire about 1968.

Several years ago the dam developed a leak and the lake had to be drained.  In time the cabins deteriorated and some burned.

Cumberland Springs was in its heyday in the early 1900s.  It was a place of unusual natural beauty where people all over enjoyed the summer-time recreation for many years.  But the lake is now gone, as well as the buildings that used to provide entertainment.  About all that remains today is the dam and a few remnants of some concrete block out buildings.

Written by the late Joe Casey for The Moore County News.