Dr. William Bonner happened upon a big clear spring in beautiful wooded area of Lincoln County, Tennessee known today as Crystal Springs Camp. Dr. Bonner never dreamed his chance discovery back in the 1800’s would become one of the best-known mineral spring resorts in Tennessee and eventually one of the finest youth camps in the state. It was his liking for deer hunting according to old-timers who retell the story, that led the wealthy physician and surgeon so far from his plantation near Fayetteville, that he stumbled upon the natural mineral waters that became heralded as Crystal Springs.
Dr. Bonner and his son Moses, were prominent citizens of the area before the Civil War. The doctor owned a great land domain that stretched from Fayetteville to the Alabama line, the legend reads, and operated a huge plantation. Lost in the historic lore of Lincoln County is the exact date that Dr. Bonner discovered the mineral springs during a deer hunt. It is known that some years after Dr. Bonner reported discovery of the springs that chemical analysis showed there were several different minerals in the bubbling waters, all believed to have excellent curative properties.
Dr. Bonner and others, who followed him through the years, found the waters to have a high mineral content and to possess curative properties deemed beneficial to the human system. According to several residents many elderly and sick persons flocked to the springs to stay at the rustic old hotel and drink the water in the early 1900’s. Some of the “elite” of Fayetteville used to flock to the Crystal Springs resort in the summer to stay in a plush resort hotel constructed before the turn of the century. It was reported that people would ride the train to Brighton Station and a horse-drawn surrey would meet them and transport them to the nearby resort.
Through the years with the coming of the automobile, the resort lost some of its glamour and popularity and eventually the historic old Crystal Springs Hotel was torn down. At one point three wealthy sportsmen of New York bought the property and converted it into a winter lodge and game preserve. During the middle 1920’s a prominent real estate dealer, R.W. (Bob) Gaunt, was associated with promoting the Springs and in selling lots to citizens in the area who planned to develop a vacation cottage resort. The subdivision never attained full fruition. It was when the acreage was sold for back taxes that the Elk Presbytery bought the tract for a campsite, then transferred it to the Synod for development.
Today the springs and a lake are the nucleus of a popular 40 acre recreation area enjoyed each year by thousands of young people and adults of the Tennessee Synod, Cumberland Presbyterian Churches and other church denominations.