This site was also the home of St. Augustine's, the first Roman Catholic Church in Grayson County, founded in 1815 by the Belgian priest, Father Charles Nerinckx, one of the great pioneer missionaries of Kentucky. He came here from what is now St. Mary in Marion County after having founded the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross in 1812.
Kentucky had at least 50 spas located on or near mineral springs. Resort owners would build large hotels, private cabins, bathhouses, steam rooms, and pools. These resorts offered the wealthy an important social environment for those seeking refuge from intense summer heat or the pollution of the cities. Resourts had riding stables, ballrooms, saloons for the men, music and dancing (including fancy dress and costume balls), gambling, billiards, fishing, and hunting. The most fashionable spa in Kentucky was built in 1828 by Dr. Christopher Columbus Graham, owner of Harrodsburg and Greenville Springs, but sold the property in 1853 for the Western Military Asylum (a home for retired soldiers). The most popular and long-lived spas in Kentucky were Olympian Springs (Bath Co.), Crab Orchard Springs (Lincoln Co.), and Blue Lick Springs (Nicholas Co.). For more information see J. Winston Coleman, Springs of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky., 1955).
The Grayson Springs spa reached its height in 1900 under the ownership of the Mercke brothers. As advertised in the Leitchfield Gazette in 1903, guests at Grayson Springs enjoyed "the most noted waters in America," from more than twenty springs. However, scientific innovations in medicine were providing more effective means of curative powers, and improved transportation was making other vacation spots (like Niagara Falls) more luring for the pleasure-hunters. The few remaining health spas situated around mineral springs were in rapid decline.
A series of fires destroyed the original four hotels in 1909, and a rebuilt hotel burned down in 1930. The sole remaining structure was purchased in 1947. In 1955, it reopened and for several years was a gathering place for special occasions. Today, this privately-owned building is all that remains of that era.
by Jody Henderson, May 9, 1997
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