Old Beersheba Inn - Beersheba Springs Hotel, Beersheba Springs Tennessee
The long line of important names closely associated with Beersheba Springs make this one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, settlements in the State of Tennessee. This is not to be construed as belittling the settlement in the Watauga Section of Tennessee or the Natchez Trace Section, but the difference between Beersheba and the aforementioned sections is that Beersheba is a small community whereas the Watauga Settlement and the Natchez Trace District are so large as to be made up of many group settlements and in that way we are differentiating Beersheba from other important areas. Beersheba also differs in that where the political, religious and social developments were excuted or administered or flowered in Watauga and in the Natchez Trace, it was here at Beersheba that many of those people in whose hands the society and culture and politics were placed that these men gathered and where so many of their policies were conceived.
Architecturally the Old Beersheba Inn is unique in that the plan of the building group takes the shape of a large rectangular court which furnished meeting places in the open for the guests of the Inn where religious services, political speeches and open air amusements could be indulged in. This shape also formed a natural protection against the ravages of Indians and animals which were not uncommon at that time. It was in this court that Bishop Otey and Bishop Polk ministered to the Indians and the first Christian Conversion in that district was made here.
As Beersheba Inn grew, for it was not all built at once, the methods of construction can be followed inasmuch as the first buildings built were log construction, one story "dog trot" type. The next group built shortly thereafter was built with hand made brick, the third and last developement was the two story "L" shaped columned building which now is, of course, the major building of the group, and this building is built using clapboard siding.
As it was customary In those days for a family to take with them their slaves when making a journey to Beersheba, rooms were provided to accomodate these slaves. This was done in the following manner: No room in the two story building can be rented singly as they are all two room suites, the front room being for the "master" and the back room for his personal attendant. Sometimes it was customary where the children were very small for them to sleep in the slave's room in order to be watched during the night by the servant. The building has not been changed and it is still impossible to rent one room in the main section. This plan does not exist in the one story row buildings but the inconvenience caused by not having slaves' rooms adjoining the master's space caused the above described system to be employed in the two story building.
The Old Inn is the center of activity around Beersheba, but in addition to the Inn a large number of cottages have been built there for use during the summer months by prominent citizens of Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis and other small towns. Most of these cottages were built about the same time that the Inn was built, some of which were built prior to the erection of the Inn. Bishops Leonidas Polk and James Hervey Otey both had cottages before the Inn was built. The Inn itself occupies the most impressive view of the group overlooking a large valley. This site was chosen because or this view and due to this fact Colonel Armfield was so impressed that he moved from Louisisna his slaves and skilled labor to build the main building and rearrange the group. It is said that Colonel Armfield brought the money for this work in the form of silver dollars which he carried in kegs from his plantations in Louisiana. It was here that bishops Otey and Polk conceived plans for the University of the South commonly known as Sewanee, and had it not been for the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad, beginning its first road over the mountains in 1848 the University would have been built at Beersheba, but inasmuch as the road was built through on the other side of the mountain, through what is now Monteagle, it was decided that it was too difficult a journey for purposes of a school.
It Is said that In the old days in order to make Beersheba guests more comfortable it was the habit of the stage coach drivers to sound their horns one blast for each traveller when they reached the bottom of the road up to the Inn, on the arrival at the top, about an hour and a half later, meals were ready for the hungry travellers.
Beersheba was not the outcome of pioneers searching for homesteads, Beersheba was an accident. The accident was the discovery by Mrs. Beersheba Cain, wife of John Cain of McMinnville, of the Chalybeate Springs. She was so sure that these Springs were of health giving qualities and so struck by the natural beauty and the surrounding rock formations and caves that she was able to interest number of people in building cabins or vacation use. From this beginning Beersheba Springs grew rapidly to where it was the play grounds of society.
Since 1857 the only structural changes that heve been made in the buildings that are still standing have been some alterations in the kitchen including changing the floor level and the alteration of two of the small rooms in the main building to provide community bath rooms, there being no private facilities of that nature.