Contributed by June Pollack and Nancy Hags
Austin Springs is a small community in the northeast corner of Washington County between Sullivan County on the north and Carter County on the east. It is nestled on the south side of the Watauga River and extends about two miles from east to west. Its name comes from mineral springs discovered on property purchased in 1860 by Clisby Austin, a Methodist minister who served a circuit in the area and a son of the Austins who owned Austin Tobacco Company in Greeneville.
Austin built a hotel on a bluff overlooking the Watauga River. The springs and hotel facilities attracted many wealthy people to the area during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Around 1929 the hotel was leased by Castle Heights Military Academy which was closed a year or two later after a cadet, Frenchie Ambard, drowned in a boating accident. The hotel burned around 1935, but the area remained a favorite picnic and camping site. Migrating gypsies camped there in both summer and fall as they passed through the area.
There is a marker on the original Austin property indicating that this was on a trail used by Daniel Boone, who followed an old Indian path through the hills. In the early 1800’s, a stagecoach road passed through the area; this road was heavily used for many years.
An area around the resort was developed around 1930 into a race track for both automobiles and motorcycles. Many families made a day of it by picnicking at the park around the springs and then spending the afternoon at the races.
One of the first families in the area was the DeVault family, who in 1790 purchased a large farm from William Bean, one of the first settlers in the area that became Tennessee. This farm was across the river from the springs. Sometime during the 1820’s or early 1830’s Valentine DeVault built a large two-story brick house on the farm. The DeVault farm was the site of a small battle during the Civil War. The DeVault descendants still live in the original house to which some additions have been made through the years. Other early families whose descendants still reside in Austin Springs include Hodge, Larimer, Smith, Trent, Hale, Baker, Wexler, Hilton, Ford, Cretsinger, Lawson, Hunt, Combs and Saylor.
One of the earliest business ventures was a grist mill run by Buck Hale and his wife Cindy. There were three mercantile stores in the community; one run by Lewis Hale on the east end, one by Bill Ford in the middle and one on the west end run by Frank Johnson, who later sold the business to Dan Ford.
Austin Springs School was opened in 1900 with Miss Annis Hale being the first principal. Also part of the community were Union School and Hawthorne School, operating at various times between 1890 and 1910. Austin Springs School was closed in 1971 and consolidated with the Boones Creek School.