Our trivia expert solves local mysteries of who, what, when, where, why, and why not.
Dear Vance: Is it true that some remains of the old Raleigh Springs Inn can be found in a patch of woods north of James Road?
— R.B., Memphis.
Dear R.B.: Well, it's possible, because some overgrown and decidedly snaky ruins could be seen the last time I was there — which was 20 years ago — but I know the owner of that land isn't too keen on people wandering all over his private property, so if you go searching and get arrested and imprisoned, then you certainly didn't read about any of this here. That's what my attorneys told me to say.
The place was just called the Raleigh Inn, though the springs were what lured people from all over the region to this astonishing resort — one of the fanciest places ever seen in Shelby County.
The water in Raleigh, you see, acquired a reputation for curing people of all sorts of ailments. Sometime in the early 1800s, a family traveling along the old stagecoach road (now James Road) stopped overnight because their baby had fallen ill. They found several natural springs in the woods, bathed the child in the cool water, and the next day — so the story goes — the child was cured. That's the legend behind Raleigh's most famous spring, appropriately called the Baby Spring, and the Raleigh Springs soon became a mecca for Memphis society, who journeyed out into the country to "take the waters." After all, whether it cured you or not, it had to taste better than Memphis water, which — in the days before we stumbled onto our artesian water supply — came from cisterns and muddy wells.
As early as 1842, a Raleigh businessman named David Coleman built a hotel near the springs, and in 1866 another hotel owner persuaded (meaning: paid) a St. Louis doctor to testify that the water did indeed have medicinal value: "The compounding of so many valuable minerals in such a happy combination guarantees to the invalid that the Great Apothecary, the God of Nature, has designed them for the healing of these creatures who, by violating His laws of health, have rendered medical aid necessary." Or so he said.
In other words, drinking clean water was good for you.
Events changed dramatically in 1892, when the tobacco-rich Duke family of North Carolina decided to erect a grand hotel in the ravine just north of James Road. Costing more than $100,000 — an astonishing sum at the time — the Raleigh Inn was a rambling wooden structure, four stories tall, with turrets and balconies and verandas and all sorts of things to make visitors ooh and aah and proclaim it the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. This was long before the Lauderdale Mansion was built, I hope you'll remember.
The springs themselves were enhanced with graceful gazebos, all linked to the hotel with stone paths that wound through the deep woods. Orchestras played here on weekends, dancers flocked to the Raleigh Inn's grand ballroom, and Raleigh became the place to be.
Then it all came to an end. The water table dropped, and the springs dried up. And Memphians found their own source of water, so they didn't have to make the long trek to Raleigh anymore. Sitting on the veranda of the Raleigh Inn wasn't really much fun compared to the thrilling roller-coaster rides at the new East End Park, or the amazing "moving pictures" they were beginning to show on Main Street.
The old hotel closed and was converted into the Maddox Seminary for Young Ladies, and a few years later turned into the James Sanitarium. On the night of May 14, 1912, a patient smoking in bed set the place on fire, and the hotel burned to the ground. That was ironic, considering that one of the goals of treatment at the sanitarium was to battle addiction to tobacco. And even more ironic considering the building was constructed in the first place by a family who made millions from tobacco.
The hotel/school/sanitarium site was abandoned, and the old springhouses tumbled down. Many years ago, the landowner showed me around the property, and if you knew where to look, you could kick through the underbrush and find piles of charcoal where the inn had once stood. And you could also find the ruins of an old gazebo, all vine-covered and creepy, along with the bullet-riddled tin roof of the old Umbrella Spring (left). But as I said, that was years ago, and today I think all that remains of the Raleigh Inn are memories.
Checking on the Chicks
Dear Vance: Who did the Memphis Chicks play on the night of May 4, 1957, and what was the score?
— B.K., Memphis.
Dear B.K.: When I received your query, my immediate response was to lie back in my La-Z-Boy and ponder why this particular game — out of all the hundreds of games played by the Chicks in their long history — so intrigued you. I spent several days pondering this mystery, anything to keep me from actually answering the question, you see.
Because how was I to know the answer? Ever since those humiliating days on the school playground, when I was the unsuspecting victim of cruel dodgeball attacks, I have avoided all contact with sports. It's not that my godlike body is incapable of athletic endeavors; I'm just doing what my highly paid therapists advise, that's all.
So I turned your question over to my pal John Guinozzo, author of the fact-filled Memphis Baseball Encyclopedia, who also operates the Guinozzo Center for Baseball Research. As you probably gathered, this gentleman knows anything and everything about sports in Memphis — heck, probably anywhere. And sure enough, within a matter of minutes, he told me this:
"On May 4, 1957 (a Saturday), Memphis beat Nashville 3-2 before a low-capacity crowd of 713."
And then, just to amaze me further, John added: "The time of the game was 2:03. George Shuba scored all three runs, including a first-inning home run and the game winner in the eighth as Harry Perkowski picked up the win in relief. He ended the game (2-0 record) by striking out a batter in the ninth and then walking a batter, and then forced the next batter to hit into a 1-4-3 inning-ending, game-ending double play."
I was beginning to think that John himself was actually there that day and somehow remembered all this.
And finally, he added this: "The temperature was nearly 90 degrees, and that same afternoon, Iron Liege nosed out the field and won the Kentucky Derby."
Whew! That was more than you asked for, wasn't it, B.K.? But just to show you that I did contribute something to this month's column, I scrambled over to the Special Collections Department at the University of Memphis — without any assistance whatsoever — and, after rooting through their files for about 15 minutes, managed to turn up a pretty nice photo of the Chicks star that day, George Shuba. Nicknamed "Shotgun" Shuba, this outfielder had recently joined the Chicks after a seven-year stint with the World Series champs Brooklyn Dodgers. I really like that old Indian chief design on his sleeve, don't you? In fact, I'm thinking about adding it to my cape. It would look swell next to the Lauderdale family crest.
Got a question for Vance? Send it to "Ask Vance" at Memphis magazine, 460 Tennessee Street #200, Memphis, TN 38103 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.