Bledsoe's Lick Archaeological Project Background

Bledsoe's LickThe mineral springs emerging across the northern tiers of counties in Middle Tennessee have attracted animals and people from across the North American landscape for thousands of years.

Where do the springs come from? Certain types of shale formations located throughout much of the Interior Low Plateau physiographic province act as partial barriers to vertical ground water flow. Most of the water coming in contact with the shale moves along its surface following the contours of the bed. These shale formations contain a variety of minerals, including notably iron sulfides. Water passing over these deposits soon acquires varying quantities of dissolved minerals. The classification of sulphur waters from white through red and black reflects an increasing concentration of solutes. When these underground flows reach an exposed margin of the Highland Rim at the interface of the Central Basin of Tennessee, a mineral spring is created.

These springs have comprised a significant part of the biotic history of the Middle Tennessee and central Kentucky landscape for millennia. These mineral licks attract large game animals and create a significant concentration of animals in a confined and predictable area. Animal trails that invariably led to salt/sulphur springs in north-central Tennessee were formed first. Humans used and improved these trails in the pursuit of game and supplemental sources of salt. Late in the prehistoric period, these trails were modified to form transportation and trade routes.

These mineral spring emerge adjacent to Lick Creek (also known as Bledsoe's Lick Creek), a tertiary stream feeding into the Cumberland River. While within the northeastern edge of the "Nashville"; or "Central Basin"; physiographic region of Tennessee, the Lick lies less than five miles south of the interface of Tennessee's "Eastern Highland Rim"; and "Central Basin."; This ecotone margin provides access to a remarkably diverse set of plant and animal resources. Glowing descriptions of this region were published by nineteenth-century writers, who sometimes referred to it as the "Eden of the West"; or the "Garden of Tennessee.";

Remains of Pleistocene (Ice Age) animals are frequent in and around these springs. Undoubtedly, the concentration of mineral springs and licks is what attracted the now-extinct mastodon ( Mammut americanum), mammoth ( Mammuthus species), and flat-headed peccaries ( Platygonus compressus). Deep stratigraphic excavations conducted in 1995 in Bledsoe's Lick Bottom suggest that the area was a mineral-enriched beaver pond during the late Pleistocene, based on the recovery of remains of turtles and giant beaver in pond sediments.

As Native Americans colonized the region as early as 12,000 years ago, the concentrations of game and the presence of the mineral waters provided an attractive location for foraging camps of Paleoindian, Archaic, and Woodland peoples. Ultimately, a Mississippian period (ca. A.D. 1000-1450) settlement was founded adjacent to the springs and grew into a forty-acre town. The wall of this town enclosed a dozen mounds and an as yet unknown number of houses and public buildings.

The concentration of mineral springs was re-discovered by long-hunter Isaac Bledsoe in summer 1772. Following buffalo trails radiating outward from the main base camp of the long-hunting expedition from Virginia, Bledsoe found what was probably a herd of 150-200 buffalo in Lick Bottom. (Draper MSS, 6XX8, 114).

Col. Bledsoe told me that when he came to Bledsoe's Creek, about two miles from the Lick, he had some difficulty in riding along the path, the Buffelowes were so crowded in the path and on each side, his horse could scarcely get through, and when he got to the bank of the creek at the Lick, the whole land surrounding the Lick of about one hundred acres was principally covered with Buffelowes in every direction - not only hundreds but thousands; the space containing the sulphur spring was about two hundred yards each way across, and the Buffelowes had licked the dirt away several feet deep in that spring. The Buffelow did not mind the sight of him and his horse, but when the wind blew from him to them and they got the scent of him they would brake and run. (Draper MSS, W, 6XX, 83-84).

As a result, the springs and surrounding area were first generally known as Bledsoe's Lick.

In 1776, Thomas Sharpe Spencer, John Holliday and other longhunters came to the middle Cumberland and built a number of cabins near Bledsoe's Lick. From this base camp near the lick, they ranged over a wide area of northern Middle Tennessee for about a year. They cleared a small amount of ground and in the spring of 1778 planted some corn. This was the first documented clearing of land and planting of corn by colonists in what was then the furthest west American frontier. Others of the party returned east in 1778 but Spencer and John Holliday stayed until 1779.

After the departure of John Holliday, Spencer spent six months at Bledsoe's Lick, living in a large hollow sycamore tree that stood about fifty yards south of the Lick. The sycamore, some nine feet in diameter, was broken off about twenty feet above ground level. The remaining trunk leaned at an angle pointing to the south. From inside Spencer could inspect the lick area before emerging from his blind. On one occasion, he watched quietly from inside the hollow tree while a half-dozen Indians spent the day stalking game all around him (Draper MSS 305, 244-245). Spencer was the first Euroamerican to clear land, plant corn, build a permanent dwelling and attempt to perfect a land claim.

In late 1779, the first family settlers appeared at Bledsoe's Lick, constituting the first settlement in what is now Sumner County. This settlement at Bledsoe's Lick was the easternmost settlement in the initial wave of colonists to the "Cumberland Country,"; at that time the most remote western frontier of the British-American colonies.

The Cumberland Road or Avery Trace (authorized by the North Carolina legislature in 1787) was completed in 1788. This road traversed the Cherokee Indian territory that separated the Knoxville and Nashville area settlements, and served as the primary overland route between these two frontier areas. During this same year the Nashville region, which was then part of North Carolina, began to be called the "Mero District.";

Isaac Bledsoe was the first private owner of the lick springs. Ownership of this and all other mineral springs and 640 acres surrounding them had been at first reserved by the State of North Carolina as possible public sources of salt. In 1789, however, all of the mineral spring lands not satisfactory for producing salt were opened for entry and Isaac Bledsoe soon thereafter perfected claim to Bledsoe's Lick. In 1790, the Mero District (including Davidson, Tennessee, and Sumner counties) was made part of the "Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio"; or more commonly the Southwest Territory.

At its first session on September 27, 1794, the Territorial Assembly authorized the cutting and clearing of a developed wagon road over the mountains. The road was to extend from Southwest Point to Bledsoe's Lick (Draper MSS 29S70). The Knoxville Gazette announced in a paid advertisement in its May 22, 1795 edition that the "annual escort through the wilderness"; would rendezvous at Southwest Point in October for the crossing to Bledsoe's Lick, a distance of some 110 miles. As a result, virtually every individual traveling westward to explore or settle the Old Southwest between 1780 and 1830 passed through Bledsoe's Lick. Thus, Bledsoe's Lick provided a readily defined destination point for the initial westward movement of colonists into the Upper South.

The French botanical researcher and political agent Andrew Michaux crossed the mountains to visit the Cumberland settlements in 1795. His journal carries an entry dated June 11, 1795: "arrived at Bledsoe's Lick or Bledsoe's Station… slept at this place where there is food for men and horses."; In 1797, the Duke of Orleans passed through Sumner County on his way from Knoxville to Nashville. On May 9, he stopped at Bledsoe's Lick. Two Moravian missionaries visited Bledsoe's Lick on November 27, 1799. Their journal notes: "Here at various places black water gushes forth, smelling strongly of gunpowder. It is very rich in sulphur…";

Four years after the death of Isaac Bledsoe at the hands of an Indian raiding party in 1793, James Winchester purchased a tract of 320 acres including the mineral springs from the Bledsoe heirs. Winchester held the property until his death in 1826. In 1829 the springs tract was divided into two parcels and advertised for sale pursuant to the settlement of Winchester's estate. One parcel was sold to A.R. Wynne and the other to Wynne, Stephen R. Roberts, and Humphrey Bate. Notes were given by all purchasers and a few years later, when it was acknowledged that nothing had been paid on the debts, the executors of Winchester's estate, the heirs, and the purchasers agreed to deed both acreages to Almira Wynne as her distributive share of her father's estate.

Within a five-mile radius of the mineral springs and lick, a remarkable concentration of significant archaeological resources remain preserved in a rural setting on both public and private lands. Among those in public ownership and open to the public are Bledsoe's Station and Wynnewood State Historic Area.

Bledsoe's Station (aka Bledsoe's Fort) was one of the first agricultural communities established in the Mero District of what would become Middle Tennessee. For several dozen families families, the site served as a fortifed refuge from Native Americans opposing the transfer of these lands to the United States. Hostilities effectively ceased in 1795, when a large Kentucky and Tennessee militia expedition destroyed two Native American towns believed to be the source of raiding parties. Soon thereafter, families moved to their own homesteads, leaving perhaps only the family of Isaac Bledsoe at the site. A single contemporary description of the "fort" provides few details, mentioning only a stockade enclosing an open square, and at least three cabins in the stockade line (with chimneys and shuttered windows outside the enclosure). Several seasons of archaeological research at Bledsoe's Fort (now located in Bledsoe's Fort Historical Park) have provided numerous new and exciting details about this portion of Tennessee history.

Overlooking Bledsoe's Lick bottom, the magnificent two-story log structure now known as Wynnewood is another spectacular historical and archaeological resource.

The extant two-story log structure and dependencies were originally built to serve as an inn for stagecoach travelers along the "Avery Trace,"; the main east-west road across the state. Wynne and his partners selected a site of great natural beauty when they staked out its foundations on the sloping wooded hillside just south of the lick springs. Set in a beautiful grove of cedar and hardwood trees, the house was located not quite halfway from the flat of the lick bottom to the brow of the hill. According to family tradition, the inn was built in 1828. However, due to the extensive amount of work required in its construction, it is doubtful that it could have been completed in a single year. More likely, the main building complex was raised in 1828, finished in 1829, and occupied in 1830, the year that it was opened to the public. Sometime between 1829 and 1832, the inn and springs changed from being "Bledsoe's Lick"; to "the Castalian Springs."; Valerius Publicola Winchester, Mrs. Wynne's brother, suggested the name change because it reminded him of the springs of Castalia at the foot of Mount Parnassus where Apollo and the Muses lived in Greek mythology. Unfortunately for this venture, soon after completion of the inn, the stagecoach route was relocated south of the Cumberland River in Wilson County. The result was a dramatic reduction in travel and travelers along the road through Bledsoe's Lick. With the failure of the stagecoach inn, the Wynne family occupied the structure as their residence and began to cultivate summer patronage for "the springs.";

The inn was built of materials plentifully available on the site. The foundation walls, which raised the logs and other woodwork safely above the damaging effects of surface water and moisture, were formed of limestone blocks quarried from the adjacent hillside. The same material was used to build the six original chimneys, five of which are still standing. Sturdy hardwood logs - many as long as thirty-two feet and all cut from nearby trees - were squared to 8"; x 16";, notched and put in place on the foundation for the walls of the two story building. Hand-hewn beams and joists whose ends rested on the foundation supported the first story. At the second floor level supporting joists were mortised directly into the log walls. Ceiling joists for the second floor served to tie the roof rafter stucture together as well as to support the ceiling. The roof, latticed with wide boards, was originally covered with hand-split wood shingles. When acquired by the State in 1971, the roofing was asphalt shingles placed ca. 1936. When replaced in 1995, the roof was restored to hand-split wood shingles matching those removed in 1936.

The main building of the inn, approximately 110' x 21', contained ten rooms: five on each of the two floors. There were fireplaces in eight of the ten rooms. On the first floor a central open hallway or "dogtrot"; led from the front steps to the back porch or galley which extended nearly the full length of the rear of the building. All rooms on the first floor opened onto the dogtrot or the gallery. Originally there were no rooms with connecting passageways. Rooms on the second floor were reached by one of the two stairways, the principal one rising from the dogtrot. The second ascends from the gallery at a point one room away from the west end of the building. The large room at the east end of the second floor, the size of the two first floor rooms beneath it, was used at one time as a meeting room for the local Masonic lodge. At other times it was used as a public sleeping room for male overnight guests of the inn. The original roof over the gallery was at the level of the eaves of the second floor. In 1899 it was lowered to its present first floor level.

The interior walls of the five first floor rooms were at first unfinished but later plastered. The plaster finish was applied in late 1836 is Almira Wynne was able to heed her husband's written instruction from Natchez, November 4, 1836 suggesting that she "brave the difficulties"; and have it finished before bad weather. Sometime since, plaster has been applied to the walls of the three westernmost rooms on the second floor. The large upstairs room at the east end was left with the logs exposed.

A large kitchen, approximately 20 feet square, with a massive stone fireplace was located in a story and half log house connected by its roof structure to the west end of the main building and separated by another dogtrot. It is thought to have been a part of the original construction of the inn. The kitchen floor was some six or seven steps lower than the floor of the main building. Five steps led down from the kitchen level into the spacious stone-walled cellar located beneath the two westernmost rooms of the inn. Separate open-riser stairs connected the kitchen to the room above it.

A two-story annex has formed an ell-type extension southward from the main building since it was connected to the inn in 1899. The log portion of this unit, approximately 20x20, is located at the south end of the ell and appears to have been built sometime before the inn. It is of two stories and originally was served by a stone fireplace and chimney, both of which were later removed. All of the logs used were of cedar; a fact that clearly sets it apart from the other buildings in which the use of cedar logs was consistently avoided. Differences in the squaring of the logs and the corner notching are such that suggest an earlier stage of construction. Could this have been the "comfortable cabin"; and/or "workshop,"; the only two structures mentioned in the published court notice of sale of 300 acres to settle General Winchester's estate in 1829? On this point, no firm facts are available. Connection of the log house to the inn by board and batten walls created additional enclosed space that has since been used as a dining room.

Located about fifty feet south and west of the annex is the original smokehouse. The details of its log construction seem to match the inn in every particular and strongly imply that it was built at the same time that the inn was created.

Perhaps forty feet southeast of the inn is a log cottage containing a single room with a large stone fireplace. This unit is of the same period as the original construction. It was used for many years sa office and living quarters for the community medical doctor. In later years it was rented as a summer cottage and its accomodations carried the highest rates charged. In other times it was variously used as the Wynne family's bachelor quarters and as a schoolroom.

As an inn, mineral springs resort, and spa, Castalian Springs saw two major periods of operation. The first lasted from 1830 until 1861, the second from 1899 until 1914. Though commercial guests were not sought between 1861 and 1899, the custom of taking local boarders did continue in this period.

In the summer of 1830, the partners of Wynne, Cage and Roberts placed advertisements in the National Banner and Nashville Whig to invite summer visitors to the springs:

The fountains are numerous, and the waters are uncommonly cold, clear and palatable; their constituent qualities are somewhat varied; all of them, however, contain portions of Sulphur, Soda, Salts, and Magnesia.

The effects of these waters have been fairly tested, and experience has proved them of great service in all eruptions of the skin or other cutaneous diseases, dispepsia, or indigestion, headache, liver complaint, diseases of the eyes, gravel and many other chronic and acute diseases.

The proprietors have at considerable expense erected spacious and comfortable buildings for the accommodations of guests… equal to any establishment of the kind in the Western country. The surrounding scenery is peculiarly picturesque and beautiful, and Nature seems to have left but little to be supplied by art to render the retreat mor fascinating and agreeable. Every exertion shall be used to afford pleasure and comfort to visitors, the invalid shall have unvaried and constant attention, while the gay, the grave and the fashionable shall meet with a hearty welcome.

Unfortunately for the Castalian Company, the firm established to run the venture, the advertisements did not generate sufficient interest and the company was dissolved only two or three years after its creation. There seems to have been little activity at the resort during the first decade. However, when the first post office was established on April 24, 1837, and designated "Castalian Springs,"; the old name of Bledsoe's Lick was abandoned by the surrounding community which elected thereafter to be called Castalian Springs.

By 1838, a developing public interest in the spa was revealed in a letter written to the editor of the Gallatin Union called for its further development:

…having had a conversation with the proprietor of this spring [The Castalian Springs] about the policy of building "huts"; and making the necessary preparations to accommodate the lame and halt, the weak and infirm, the sound and robust, and the pleasure hunters, during the warm as well as the sickly season of the year, I learned that he had it in contemplation to… erect extensive buildings, and make such other preparations as may be necessary for the next season. It is indeed to be hoped… that this matter will not be delayed. If I should be allowed to prophecy… I am from all surrounding circumstances constrained to say, if extensive preparations are gone into, that in a few years it would rival the Harrodsburg Springs. What is there to prevent it? Nothing under the sun. What is it that makes a watering place a fashionable resort? It is its natural and artificial appearance, and the Medicinal effects of its Water. In one of these qualities, the Castalian far excels the Harrodsburg or any other spring in our knowledge. Viz. its natural Scenery.

There is no place… that is better calculated to soothe and cheer up the natural feelings of a way-worn traveler, of an unfortunate, consumptive being, of a thin pale visaged dyspeptic man or woman, of an unlucky battler, and finally of a poor sickling disappointed lover, as the scenery which presents itself around this pure unadulterated fountain of health…

…Around this place the first emigrants to this state settled their families… Here Society is excellent; it may be very appropriately called the land of Churches. 6 campgrounds in less than 7 miles, 3 Methodist, 1 Presbyterian, 2 C. P. and 19 common places of preaching.

…Often whilst at these Springs I have heard strangers remark "it is a great pity that this man don't improve this place. It is as pretty a situation as I ever saw in my life.";

By 1839, summer business at the springs was booming.

In response to an inquirty from a correspondent in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Charles Cassedy wrote a detailed recommendation of the Castalian Springs that was copied in the Gallatin Union , March 29, 1839. Cassedy declared that he had "much faith in the properties of the waters of these springs."; He wrote of the Lick: "The plain in which the Castalian Springs are situated, is an irregular amphitheatre of some extent, embossomed in lofty hills, mostly wooded with the native forest growths of the country, to their summits: here you will find the mountain oak, the ash, the hickory, the beech, the sycamore and numerous others…

In the July 12, 1839 edition of the Gallatin Union, "The Castalian Springs is becoming a place of considerable resort…. This most excellent water is considered equal to any in the United States, and we can but believe that the time is not far distant when it will be classed with the first fashionable watering places of this country. Col. Wynne, the proprietor, is still going on building and improving - his present accommodations not being sufficiently extensive to accommodate the visitors that are beginning to resort there from different sections of the Union.";

The fulsome summer crowds of August 1839 were swelled by the presence of county politicians of both major parties who had retired to the springs on the day after the state elections there to await the results. First reports showed that the Whig, Newton Cannon, was leading the Democrat, James Knox Polk, in the governor's race. Complete returns showed Polk, "Young Hickory,"; the winner, and literal explosions of joy and of gunpowder set off in large logs announced the news. At Castalian Springs, the celebration lasted "past 10 p.m.";

The colonel's title derived from his rank as commander of the 1,200 man Gallatin and Hartsville militia. He was never called to duty, but six of his eight sons experienced wartime service. The two eldest were in the Tenth Legion during the Mexican War. Four others that were Confederate soldiers.

Colonel Wynne died in 1893 and was interrred in the Winchester Cemetery at Cragfont. Through a complicated chain of inheritances, Castalian Springs descended to his surviving daughters: Susan Winchester Wynne, Mary Meriwether Wynne, and Maria Louise Wynne. From them Castalian Springs passed to their youngest brother, Winchester Wynne.

It was during the tenancy of the sisters, under the management of J.B. Blakemore and then Tom Youree, that Castalian Springs enjoyed its greatest popularity as a spa. There was a full complement of cottages, bathhouses, dance pavilions, bowling alleys and billiard rooms. A larger dining room was added and additional guest rooms provided in the main house.

In the hands of Winchester Wynne and his sons, Edmund Rucker Wynne and George Winchester Wynne, Castalian Springs became a model farming operation, and their methods and results were publicized nationally. Repairs, replacements and the few additions were always made with old materials. Then in 1971, George Winchester Wynne and his wife, Eula Westbrook Wynne, in a final effort to preserve the integrity of the house and landscape, deeded the area to the State of Tennessee.

In many ways, Wynnewood is a uniquely well preserved location preserving a landscape associated with the beginnings of colonization of the Old Southwest, a destination point of the majority of westward travelers from 1780-1830, and an exceptional body of architecture and landscape reflecting the vernacular style of the frontier period.

Now preserved as Wynnewood State Historic Area, the site has seen several seasons of archaeological research.