Robbins: Mabbitt Springs and Summertown remembered

Members of the Robbins, Decosimo and Strang families gather on recent a Saturday outing at Mabbitt Springs.

Col. Creed Bates, the principal of Chattanooga High School, resided in St Elmo during the cooler months and came to his family's log cabin in Summertown, now in Walden, during the summer. Sunday afternoons were open house when he shared apples, cider and stories with a stream of students, mountaineers and passersby. He had a rich collection of mountain folklore, and on Aug. 5, 1956, delivered a history of the Mabbitt Springs in dedicating the new Myra Smartt Kruesi bridge. (Ms. Kruesi famously drew Frierson, Killebrew, Brock, Martin and Kruesi grandchildren to her summer place.) Below are excerpts.

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"Through countless ages, from this Spring called Mabbitt, has come forth a constant stream of cold, sparkling, life-giving, chalybeate [iron salt] water. During the latter part of the last century from this spring came also the unique and charming community called Summertown.

"Tradition has it that the red man come here to quaff its magic waters. Oliver Hartman, 'Sage of the Horseshoe,' states his grandfather told him how the Indians used to come and camp nearby, especially in the fall of the year when streams ran low, to drink from this spring and to hunt the abundant game in the nearby hollows. Abe Hatfield tells of the droves of wild turkey that 'used' on the slopes below the present John Kruesi home. Uncle Joe Miles, reared nearby, relates how numerous turkey, deer and bear were about this spring when he was a boy. One snowy day he was with his father at the spring. His father told him he saw deer signs in a nearby laurel thicket, and hastened to a 'stand' near the site of the old Edmondson, now PJ Kruesi home. The startled boy counted 16 deer as they broke through the brush, shaking the snow from their antlers. [The Bishop family now lives at the PJ Kruesi home.]

"In 1852, E.H. Mabbitt, from the North, hoping the waters of this spring might improve the health of an ailing son, bought 400 acres of land surrounding the spring and built a large two story log cabin at the present Three Oaks site [today the home of Laura and Tracy Willingham.] Although he lived here only a few years, he gave the spring its name. His house later sheltered numerous refugees.

"Then came the year of the cholera, 1873. Among the many refugees from Chattanooga that year at the old log house built by Mr. Mabbitt were Judge D.M. Key and his brother Summerfield Key. Later that year they had log cabins for summer occupancy built on what is now the Eugene Bryan place [now the home of Mary and Don Aho.] A few years later in 1878, the year of the yellow fever, refugees from the city fled here to escape the dread 'yellow jack' and drink of the health giving waters of Mabbitt.

"Like so many early settlements built around springs, there was an era of boarding houses as part of the summer community life. The old Mabbitt log cabin, later replaced by a three story frame structure, and known as Three Oaks, operated under various managements for many years. In the 1870s and '80s the famed cook and her specialty of batter cakes brought many guests along what is now Wilson Avenue to Mrs. Robert Wilson's home. About the turn of the century, Amos Rank provided his boarders [at today's home of Melissa and William Decosimo] with Mabbitt's water.

"So highly prized was this spring that the early fathers of Summertown, in order to make its waters available to all, surrounded it by a public park in 1882. [Now a Town of Walden park.]

"And to get this water brings up another saga - the water carriers. This procession of carriers starts in the shadow of the deep past with Indian squaws carrying earthenware jars of water from the spring to their hunting lodges on the nearby bluff. Then came the Mabbitts with their wooden buckets, and then Summertown becomes a community - what a throng, old and young, gathering and talking around the spring, drinking its waters, especially in the early morning and in the late afternoon: Cleggs, Sims, Gillespies, Sharps, Smartts, McVeas, Ochs, Williams, Hulseys, Divines and a host of others. And look what they are carrying their water in - jugs, demi-johns, wooden pails, paper buckets, tin pails, galvanized buckets, lard buckets, syrup buckets and with cups, dippers, and gourds."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser with Patten and Patten, and his wife, Eloise, live above Mabbitt Springs. For more, visit