Rural Heritage Museum Exhibit Will Spotlight History of Hot Springs

The next exhibit at Mars Hill University’s Rural Heritage Museum will shine a spotlight on the town of Hot Springs. “A Fountain of Youth in the Southern Highlands: A History of Hot Springs, North Carolina” opens February 2, 2019, and runs through August 31. An opening reception will take place from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, February 2. The exhibition explores the unique and colorful history of Hot Springs, the Madison County town which became a tourist destination in the 18th and 19th centuries as word spread about the hot, naturally carbonated water that bubbled out of the ground. Included in the exhibit are rare and newly-discovered documents, photographs, and artifacts, on loan from public and private collections from throughout the region. Among them are original menus, newspaper advertisements, tea pots and soup tureens from the historic Mountain Park Hotel, a vest worn by the first mayor of Hot Springs, various Dorland–Bell School ephemera, crafts made in 1916 by WWI interned Germans, and many other unique and interesting objects from Hot Springs’ historic past. The exhibition is accompanied by a 20-minute introductory film, produced by the museum, which brings together all aspects of the Hot Springs story.

The exhibition explores the long and complex history of the town and the surrounding region, beginning with the Ani-Kituah and Cherokee peoples, followed by European settlers and Edwardian-era aristocrats. It explores the impact of the railroad, logging, agriculture, the French Broad River and its historic 1916 flood, the Civil War, World War I (and the confinement of 2700 “enemy aliens”), the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Dorland-Bell School, mountain music, the creation of the Pisgah National Forest and the Appalachian Trail, and the rise of contemporary eco-tourism.

“A Fountain of Youth in the Southern Highlands: A History of Hot Springs, North Carolina” was curated by Pat Momich. The Rural Heritage Museum is grateful for additional, generous assistance provided by author Jacqueline Painter, Hot Springs Mayor Sidney Harrison, Hot Springs Spa Manager Heather Hicks, Visitor Center Administrator Stacey Geyer, Sunnybank proprietor Elmer Hall, Ms. Cecilia Roberts, and many other long-time residents.

This exhibition was made possible through a grant from the Madison County Tourism Development Authority.

The Rural Heritage Museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment. It is located in Montague Hall (commemorating the 100th year of its construction and dedication) on the university campus, at 80 Cascade Street, Mars Hill, North Carolina. The museum is accessible and admission is free.

For more information or to schedule a group tour, please call (828) 689-1651 or visit the museum’s website at

Hot Springs, North Carolina 2016; Madison County From Above, Volume 1. Ryan Phillips Photography.