Present day Laurel County registers high on the recreational scale with its beautiful lakes and fine camping facilities that welcome visitors from many states practically year-round. Good roads provide access to most of these places.
A vacation to enjoy the scenic spots of the area was not always so easy, yet two resorts along the Rockcastle River on the western edge of the county gained fame and lent romance to an early period in our history.
Both Sublimity Springs and Rockcastle Springs were actually located in Pulaski County but were more easily accessed from the Laurel County side of the Rockcastle River. Even before the railroad reached London in 1882, stage lines ran from Crab Orchard to Rockcastle Springs via London.
Documented information on these resorts is sketchy. The best I have on Sublimity Springs was passed on to me by a friend who found an article about that hotel in the Pulaski County Historical Society’s online newsletter. That article, written by Charlene Phelps, details how Dr. Christopher Columbus Graham, sold his hotel in Harrodsburg and established the Sublimity Springs resort along the Rockcastle River about 1855. Dr. Graham set up a sawmill on the opposite bank of the river and this industry became what Phelps calls “the center of the enterprises on Rockcastle.”
Phelps writes: “In 1858, Dr. Graham was instrumental in getting a state road into and through the site. The State appropriated $500 for the road on the Pulaski side and the same for the Laurel side, the largest outlay for a road in the county prior to the time. . .”
Graham knew many people around the state and the hotel at Sublimity Springs became well-known through word of mouth. Phelps’ description of the hotel gives a graphic picture of the building itself and is worth quoting: “A large hallway separates the guest rooms into five on either side of the building on both the upper and lower floors with the exception of the dining room on the first floor. A veranda type porch, a part of the front gable, gives a view of the river flowing to the Cumberland. A three room batten siding house serves as slave quarters and as cook facilities.”
Phelps gives the winter of 1877-78 as the date for the closing of Sublimity Springs She calls it “ ‘the year of the tide’, in which the Cumberland and Rockcastle froze over and from a January thaw the ice floes crushed everything in their movement, thus destroying the mill.”
There is much more to this article, including cited sources; contact the Pulaski County Historical Society at pulaskicountyhistoricalsociety.org for further information.
The time period of the Rockcastle River resorts overlapped. Sublimity Springs was established first and closed several years before the heyday of Rockcastle Springs. In old records in the Mountain Echo we find Sublimity Springs referred to as “old Rockcastle Springs” and we do know that some of the same men were involved in the running of both hotels.
Next week I will write more about Rockcastle Springs, the Laurel Countians who ran it and the people who vacationed there.
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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. Call 606-864-0607 during those hours. Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org.
Contact Jan Sparkman at email@example.com.