New Plans For Indian Springs

Sometimes called the “Saratoga of the South,” Indian Springs State Park is the oldest State Park in the nation, and there’s enough history here to fill volumes of literature. It played a crucial role in the resolution of land contracts with the Creek Indians – which resulted in the murder of Chief William McIntosh, part-Creek negotiator and a tragic figure in Georgia frontier history. A few decades later, during the Civil War, the right wing of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army camped at Indian Springs before crossing the Ocmulgee River on its fiery March to the Sea (Sherman himself was with the left wing).

And if the history doesn’t wow you, how about the exotic sulfur water emanating from the spring – possibly Georgia’s version of the Fountain of Youth? “I’ve been drinking it for 20 years,” says Flovilla Mayor Harvey Norris.

“It was known as a Fountain of Youth at the turn of the century,” says Frankie Willis, Butts County Historical Society vice president and restoration director. “At one point there were 10 hotels here,” including McIntosh’s own glamorous Indian Springs Hotel.

Jackson Progress-Argus Publisher Marshall Avett, who is penning the history of the city of Jackson, notes that the spring must have some curative power because the park as a destination “keeps coming back.” Three of the biggest hotels burned in one night in 1921, but community leader Dan Hoard created an amusement park at the nearby Foy Hotel in the 1950s, where teenagers would come for dances, “and now it’s coming back again,” Avett says.

The hotel, built in 1823, reopened as a museum last year with the help of $1 million from the State Department of Transportation. Willis says the DOT advised that in order for the park to draw tourists, it would be necessary to clean up dilapidated housing surrounding the area. So the trucking mogul has been buying houses to convert to cottages and shops, named after their former owners. April 7 marked the second re-opening of the site, which has evolved into a village of shops, gardens, cottages, an art gallery and other attractions.

“Now that most of the old buildings have been restored, we’re focusing on children,” Willis says. “Between April 29 and Sept. 5 of 2006, we had more than 275 kids visit, most of whom had never been here before.” The village is being linked, via a three-mile trail through the state park, to Dauset Trails, which offers 17 miles of bike trails. A trolley where a rail spur once connected the village to the Southern Railroad (now Norkfolk-Southern) linking all the venues is expected to give the entire area an additional economic boost.

Norris and Willis both envision a high-end conference center to further boost the county’s hospitality and tourism potential. As Jackson Mayor Charlie Brown notes, it is a county-wide project that will benefit everyone. (Jackson provides half the historical society’s budget.) “We’re not just bringing quality to Jackson, but to the whole county,” Brown says.

“We have a lot of things on the plate. It’s all about Butts County and us. In my 14 years as mayor, we’ve been separated – now, we’re coming together,” Norris says. – Ben Young

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