The John Primm family had established a watering spa at these Hickman County springs by the mid-1830s. It would be the Daniel Estes family, however, who would take the reins in the 1860s and bring the resort to its heights of glory in the early 20th century. Known as White Sulphur Springs in its early days, the five mineral springs of black and white sulphur, lime (freestone), calomel, and arsenic proved a powerful draw to those seeking its supposed healing properties.
After experiencing his own healing at the hands of the waters, Daniel Estes formed a stock company and purchased the property. Estes would build three hotels, and the resort would grow to encompass thirty structures, including twenty or so cottages built by stockholders.
The Estes House, erected in 1874, was the third hotel constructed and would become the most noted. In the early days, horses, carriages, and hacks dropped off guests at the hotel platform built around a big beech tree. A dance pavilion and bowling alley would be constructed, and in the 1920s, there would be talk of moonshiners catering to the clientele. The emphasis shifted from the medicinal value of the water to the mouth-watering Southern cooking offered up at the spa.
What did not change was the mysterious absence of mosquitoes and flies from the Primm Springs area that even Tennessee state entomologists could not explain AND the Estes family’s refusal to sacrifice the majestic trees in the area for the installation of electricity. Window panes and screens were never installed. Oil lamps lit the darkness. And cooking continued to take place on wood stoves. In its heyday, the resort might host four hundred to five hundred people in its hotels, cottages, cabins, and encampments along the waters of the property. But with no window panes or fireplaces in the cottages and cabins, Primm Springs entertained customers only in the summer months.
While visitors might drink as much of the mineral waters as they liked on site, to carry it off the property they paid 10 cents a gallon. Some local teenage boys chose to work on the weekends at the resort filling the containers of water for sale or re-setting pins in the bowling alley for “pin-money.”