Dawson Springs Early History

The earliest known documented reference to the location where Dawson Springs now stands is in a catalog of Indian sites and monuments, prepared in 1824 by Professor C.S. Rafunesque of Transylvania University. It lists an Indian monument site on the Tradewater River in Caldwell County. Tradewater river, which partly surrounds Dawson Springs, seems to have been neutral ground, or rather neutral water, where the tribes and white settlers went for the barter of skins and other goods. It was this trade that gave the name to the stream, “The Tradewater River.” There once was an Indian village where Dawson Springs is now located, known as “The Big Bend in Tradewater River,” evidenced by flint chips, spear heads, pestles, mounds and forts found in the area. The Big Bend village was a trading post. Other tribes living north of the Ohio River would come up the Tradewater River to trade blankets, lariat ropes, and shell beads for other articles and trade goods. A little more than a mile away from town, on the summit of a lofty cliff, are the remains of an Indian fort  built of rocks, one of a chain of forts that reached across Western Kentucky.

The earliest known white settlers came to the area around 1808, and the earliest reference to a white settlement where Dawson Springs now stands is given in the first edition of Collin’s History of Kentucky. The village was called Chalklevel. The origin of the name is unknown. In October 1872 the Elizabethtown and Paducah Railroad opened a depot, Tradewater Station, on land owned by Patton Alexander and Bryant Dawson. In 1874 the railroad company changed the depot’s name to Dawson, in honor of Bryant Dawson. The same year, “Dawson” was listed as the name of the post office in Hopkins County, Kentucky. It is that day in 1874 that is considered to be the birth date of Dawson Springs.

In 1877 Washington I. Hamby moved to Dawson from Christian County and engaged in merchandising, and running a railroad and eating house. He built a new house, and in the process of digging a well he struck a strong vein of chalybeate, iron impregnated water, and digging stopped. The date was July 2, 1881. He had just about decided to fill the well back in and dig a cistern, when several Irish laborers, who had been drinking the well water, expressed the belief that the water had pronounced medicinal value. They convinced Mr. Hamby to leave the well and helped him to dig a cistern. Thus came into being Dawson’s first mineral “spring,” the famous Bhalybeate Well No. 1, on June 7, 1893. Later, while boring for water for a hotel he had built, Mr. Hamby again accidentally struck an inexhaustible stream of water. The famous well became known as Hamby’s Salts, Iron and Lithia Well. The discoveries of these two wells would change the course of history for the city.

Dawson exploded onto the scene as a leading health resort in the South. In 1898, “Springs” was added to the name of the town in recognition of its mineral water. The most likely name for the town was “Dawson Wells,” however to many citizens that name just didn’t sound right. At the time there was a beautiful bubbling spring in Sandusky Park near the center of town. With that spring in mind, someone suggested that “Dawson Springs” was a more attractive name, and the name was adopted. To this day many people mistakenly think that the mineral water the town is known for came from springs instead of wells.

At the turn of the century, Dawson Springs was in a “golden era.” This era culminated with the construction of the modern, 150-room, New Century Hotel. This grand hotel became a landmark, and its guests would come from far and wide, stay at the hotel, and partake of the many mineral waters.