Shelby Springs

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Shelby Springs was a resort community located between Columbiana and Calera in Shelby County. The community was founded by John Washington, who operated the resort hotel and served as postmaster.

The locale was developed before the 1840s with a hotel, cabins and bathing house forming an ample wooded square around the springs, which were ennobled by fountains of Talladega marble and shaded green benches. According to University of Alabama professor R. T. Brumby, Washington's cooking staff provided such elegant meals that "the most fastidious gourmand need go no farther to find wherewith to gratify his appetite."

The East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad made connection to Shelby Springs in 1855. Wimberly and Sparks & Co. constructed a new 30-room Shelby Springs Hotel and added more cabins. They advertised six healing springs at the property: three of sulfurous waters, one limestone, and one chalybeate. A stone well supplied drinking water. Jasper Norris of Selma leased the 2,700 acre property in 1856.

In part because of its rail access, Shelby Springs became a hub of activity during the Civil War. The resort was converted into Camp Winn, a training ground for recruits drilled by cadets from the University of Alabama. In March 1862, Samuel Tarrant of Jonesboro raised a company of "Jonesboro Guards" that mustered at Shelby Springs as Company H of the 28th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Later the hotel was converted for use as a general hospital staffed by Father Leray and the Sisters of Mercy, who had fled from Vicksburg, Mississippi with their charges on boxcars. Many of those who died were buried at a cemetery on the nearby ridge.

Norris resumed operation of the resort in the late 1860s and hosted a reunion of the 10th Alabama Regiment of Northern Virginia on July 27, 1871 and a centennial celebration for the United States on July 4, 1876 with more than 5,000 attending. A "Democratic Rally" on July 30, 1880 likewise brought large crowds to Shelby Springs. In 1882 Norris sold his interests to Hope Baker shortly before the hotel was destroyed in a fire. They leased the site to Colonel J. M. Dedman, the proprietor of the elegant St James Hotel in Selma. He constructed a new hotel on the foundation of the previous one. The main building housed the dining room, parlors and ballroom while the individual rooms consisted of small cottages arrayed around the square and connected by a covered promenade. Dedman also added bath houses for the sulphur springs. The resort hosted the May 1887 picnic of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of Selma. By 1892 Baker had resumed operating the resort. He gave the buildings a fresh whitewashing and secured a telegraph station and a license to serve alcoholic beverages. He hired experienced cooks and physicians to tend to guests who payed $2 per day, $10 per week, and $20-35 per month. Billiard tables, bowling alleys, tennis courts and a game parlor were provided for entertainment, along with a full-time string ensemble. Gas lamps illuminated the grounds in the evenings.

Baker died from consumption on December 29, 1893. In March 1895 his widow, Mary was married to Maynard Pond, who joined her in running the resort. The hotel was again destroyed by fire in 1896. The Ponds then leased the site to Ed Booker, who constructed a new dining room and dance hall. Mary's third husband, J. W. McMahon, took over operations of the resort after they wed on October 30, 1900, but he was murdered on September 1, 1904. Mary McMahon contracted for construction of a new hotel in 1905, which was managed by J. A. McKnight. They hosted the Birmingham Auto Club after a day-long drive from the city that August. The hotel was destroyed again by fire on May 15, 1906. Mrs McMahon retired to Birmingham's West End after that fire and leased the resort to W. J. Lloyd of Washington D.C. He modernized the resort and hosted an encampment of the Alabama Baptist Convention in August 1910.

Ray McMillan purchased Shelby Springs in 1912 and operated until 1915, when it closed. His family remained there until 1926 when they sold it to the Nelson Realty Company. The Nelson Company formed a new venture, the Yamakita Land and Development Company, with plans to create a modern resort at Shelby Springs. They hired Turner & McPherson architects to design a large Hotel Yamakita and planned a country club around it. The project was never realized. In 1938 Captain John Irby purchased the area around the springs for his own estate, a two-story Georgian mansion. He piped the mineral waters to the edge of his property for use by the public, and stipulated in his deed that the waters should remain free for public use. Howard Hall of Birmingham purchased the house after Irby's death. It was later purchased by Joe and Carolyn Dorris.


  • Brumby, R. T. (1839) Alabama State Almanac of 1839. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Frederick Barnard, editor and publisher
  • Seales, Bobby Joe (n.d.) "Shelby Springs at - accessed August 17, 2021
  • Sulzby, James F. (1960) Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.