Beersheba Springs, a historic resort village in north Grundy County, began attracting visitors after Mrs. Beersheba Porter Cain of McMinnville discovered a large chalybeate spring in 1833 and suggested that the water, with its high iron content, contained medicinal properties. Several freestone springs gave visitors a variety of water, and the altitude of two thousand feet provided lowlanders a respite from fevers and other summer ills.
Early accommodations consisted of several log cabins and a tavern built by George R. Smartt and Dr. Alfred Paine of McMinnville. They formed the Beersheba Springs Company, which the Tennessee state legislature incorporated in 1839. Although residents staged balls at the resort as early as 1837, Beersheba Springs did not achieve social prominence and attract visitors from the deep South until the 1850s, when ex-slavetrader John Armfield acquired the property. Armfield incorporated several cabins and built a two-story porticoed hotel with a fine view of the Collins River Valley. In the rear, two quadrangles of cabins opened onto two courtyards separated by a cross row. The hotel featured a large dining hall with a ballroom above it. Armfield imported chefs and musicians from New Orleans to entertain his guests and compete with the fashionable Virginia watering places. He also built twenty cottages for affluent friends, who enjoyed the last great social season in 1860.
In 1875 the hotel brochure advertised Beersheba as a quiet family retreat rather than a fashionable resort. This description characterizes the community today. The family-owned Armfield cottages are passed down from one generation to the next. Families have added other cabins--several are constructed of logs hauled from other sites--and the rustic atmosphere prevails.
Beersheba's local population, which the 1990 census reported as 577, is comprised largely of families involved in crafts, agriculture, commerce, and community affairs. In his poem, "Mountain People," Leonard Tate compares the character of Beersheba residents and their neighbors to the lasting qualities of granite. Local residents also are active in volunteer fire and rescue squads.
In 1973 the Tennessee General Assembly authorized the preservation of ten thousand acres of wilderness in the Savage Gulf area near Beersheba and set aside the area for recreational purposes. In 1980 the historic district of the town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. That same year a group of local and summer residents led by Margaret Brown Coppinger formed the Beersheba Springs Historical Society. The society's projects include the 1983 publication of an illustrated history for Beersheba's sesquicentennial celebration.
In 1941 the United Methodist Church acquired the hotel and uses the property for group retreats. The surrounding area offers a number of recreational opportunities including hiking, swimming, bird watching, and canoeing. Many nearby geological and archaeological sites provide insights into the earth's history as well as that of Native American occupants of the region.
Today, Beersheba is governed by three elected commissioners, who elect a chairman. The town includes several churches, two firehalls, a local library, a museum, and a post office. An annual Arts and Crafts Fair draws thousands of visitors during the fourth weekend in August.
Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010