Carolyn Steele Agosta
Well, La-Di-Da. A Spa!
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
DID YOU KNOW that there used to be a well-known spa in Denver, NC, in the early-to-mid-19th century? Between the 1790s and the Civil War, the Catawba Springs resort welcomed visitors from throughout the southeast. Located on the main stagecoach road between Salisbury and Asheville (now almost opposite the Verdict Ridge golf course entrance on Kidville Road in Denver), it was considered a fashionable place to enjoy the healthful mineral-rich waters and some high-toned social life.
Honestly, the idea blew my mind, that little old Denver (TRULY a small place in those days) had such an upscale resort. In those days, mineral baths and spas were considered the epitome of a cultured life. The resort’s guestbooks from 1838 to 1854 are still preserved in Davidson College’s library and they list the names of many prominent North and South Carolina residents. Learning about this spa certainly fired my imagination.
The following is an excerpt from my story, “The Young Lady of Fashion – 1852” in my book, “Two Weeks Every Summer, Stories from Camp Meeting.”
Sunday, August 1
First thing, Papa marched us off to church services. But what a church! Apparently, our visit has coincided with some kind of annual revival meeting and we attended services at an outdoor arbor and sat on log seats! I could barely listen to the minister for fear of retaining splinters, or worse. You should see this place, surrounded by these crude huts where people live for two weeks while the revival is going on. Inside the arbor, the preachers stand on a raised platform, and the women sit to one side of the aisle and the men on the other, with the black house servants at the back and the field hands way out on the grass. I will say the singing is quite nice, even though they do not have an organ, just a man leading the singing one line at a time.
Everyone sings with great gusto, not like our mincing little murmurs at church at home.
The preaching is forceful. I was quite terrified that the minister, a small man with a great booming voice, might suddenly point his finger at me and ask if I was saved. He actually did that to others there! He could probably have accused me of vanity, because I must say, I looked very well. Especially in that crowd where some of the women wore clothes five to ten years out of fashion. Truly, I do not lie. And the sad thing is, you could tell it was their best finery.
I was quite happy to get back to the spa, which consists of two large white buildings with verandas, a couple of smaller buildings, and numerous cabins and outbuildings. They are all clustered around the various springs, where the mineral water bubbles up and smells like rotten eggs. I do not think they will get me into that water, nor drink it neither. A lot of the other visitors are old, even older than Mama and Papa. There is one young man, Mr. Gates, who is not terribly good-looking, but he dresses well and is gentlemanly. Papa says he’s looking to buy one of the iron foundries in the area. He’s not much to write about, but at least it’s someone to practice on.
The food is good.
Papa is calling, I will write more later.
If you enjoyed that, I hope you’ll check out the rest of the story and my book at http://www.carolynsteeleagosta.com or at Amazon.com.
By the way, this is a photo of one of the buildings at Catawba Springs, obviously many years after the spa closed down (and I'm not sure if it's still standing). The property is posted 'No Trespassing', but I sure wish there had been a photo of the place in its heyday.