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May 2, 2014

Traces of Laurel: Rockcastle Springs

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The most romantic period in Laurel County’s history was during the time of the Rockcastle River resorts when visitors came from other parts of Kentucky, and from other states, to bask in the natural beauty of the forests and springs along the river. 

Picture a time when only dirt roads led to this area; think of how long it would take to make the more than twenty mile journey from London to the Laurel-Pulaski line on the Rockcastle River in a horse drawn wagon or buggy.  Then think of the rest and relaxation provided on arrival by a spacious hotel surrounded by scenic vistas of forest and river. No wonder it was a popular spot.

Rockcastle Springs Resort is often mentioned in old issues of the Mountain Echo as a recreational attraction used widely by outsiders and local residents.  Written records of this period are mostly lost in the passage of time, but a few remain.  I’ve found references in both Dyche’s and Clark’s histories of Laurel County, as well as one or two places online and in the Filson Club Quarterly, copies of which are on file at the historical society.

So when did Rockcastle Springs open and what was its connection to Sublimity Springs which I wrote about in last week’s column?  In Dyche’s “History of Laurel County” he writes that:  “An 1885 letterhead of Rockcastle Springs Hotel, F.J. Campbell, Manager, states that it was in its Forty-Fifth Season.  This places the beginning of the resort in 1841.” (And, therefore, before the establishment of Sublimity Springs).  Other sources disagree and indicate that early references to the Rockcastle Springs actually refer to Sublimity Springs or that the two existed simultaneously, which of course, for a time, they certainly did.  What we know for sure is that the heyday of Rockcastle Springs was after the Civil War.  It continued to draw tourists until it closed in 1912.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
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