On October 15, 1870, Simpson Watkins purchased 96 acres along the east shore of Hamilton Lake, then known as Fish Lake, in Otsego Township, Steuben County, Indiana. Simpson had moved to Indiana in 1841 from New York State. The earliest settlers in this area began arriving in 1835. By 1840 most of the land had been registered by settlers or land speculators.
The 96 acres was a farm when Simpson purchased it. The area near the lake was forest. Cattle were grazed to help clear the area.
In 1881 Homer Watkins purchased the land from his father, Simpson. By 1885, newspapers mentioned church picnics being held at Watkins Grove. This attractice area became a spot for a days outing or fishermen to camp. Nearby farms sold eggs and produce and some arranged to serve meals.
A concession stand was built and boats made available for rent. A small hotel was built and opened in 1898. Also, a building for bowling was added. This building was later used for dances. A toboggan slide and bath house were available by the turn of the century.
Cold Springs Cottage Park was platted on Sept. 14, 1896. The first cottage was built by A. C. Donaldson from Edgerton. In 1909, the towns represented by persons with cottages were Chicago, Buffalo, Fort Wayne, Vincennes, South Bend, Defiance, Celina, Pioneer, Melburn, Archibold, Edon, St. Joe, Butler, Edgerton, Hicksville, Bryan, Shirley, Wauseon, Montpelier, Fairmont, and Mathews. By 1914, there were 50 summer cottages. Twenty years later there were 125 cottages.
Meat and milk were kept in boxes with spring water piped through each box. Boathouses were built along the shore in front of the cottages. Today the boathouses have been replaced with boatlifts for power boats.
People did not want to purchase lots becuase the lots were surrounded by another's land. A system of leasing was developed that is still in use today.
The big day was Sunday in the early 1900s. Bands from surrounding towns gave concerts, ministers and politicians gave speeches, and area baseball teams played. William Jennings Bryan spoke from the hotel porch. Teams were known as the Hamilton Leaders or Sod Busters, Edon Boneheads, Auburn Blues, or Ashley Grays.
Early visitors from nearby towns came by horse and buggy but many more came by train. The Wabash Railroad ran two passenger trains in each direction through Hamilton. In 1901, a round-trip excursion to Detroit cost $1.25. Passengers to Hamilton walked or were assisted to the Mill Pond where they took a launch to Cold Springs or another spot on the lake.
There was much discussion about building interurban tracks from Butler or Waterloo. Right-of-ways were purchased. Travelers had to transfer to other means from Waterloo and Steubenville, the intersection for the Fort Wayne, Jackson, and Saginaw Railroad. As the railroads overtook the canals, the automobile would soon supplant the railroads. Cold Springs was important enough as a destination to the railroads to be located on a Rand McNally map of Indiana Railroads.
A new three story hotel with 25 rooms was opened in 1914. A private electric lighting system was installed. The music of Tin Pan Alley was being played on home phonographs. The waltz, one step, two step, and fox trot were popular dances. The bowling alley was remodeled into a dance pavilion in 1917, and again in 1922 to its present size - a 60 x 96 foot dance floor surrounded by a 16 foot veranda. With electricity, it was now possible to dance at night.
Orchestras were hired for spring weekends and for the summer months when dances were every night except Monday. The season started with the opening of fishing season on 16, June and ended with Labor Day. No admission was charged to the dances. Ladies brought their daughters to enjoy the music and watch over their children. Tickets were sold for each dance. This practice continued until about 1941 when admissions were charged.
The toboggan slide was removed by 1920. Another specific bathing area was not developed until about 1930 when a beautiful location known as Willow Point was selected for a waterwheel, top, diving board equipment, a long pier, and bath houses. There was space for campers and picnickers. The beach remained popular until 1946 when it was moved to a new location in front of the hotel.
The original concession stand was replaced in 1938 by a Coffee Shop. It contained a large soda fountain, sandwich service, cold meats, produce, and booths for customers.
The hotel was popular throughout the 20's and 30's. Alcohol was not allowed in the resort in the early period and prohibition prevented its sale until the 1930s. A hotel beer license was obtained in 1937. A basement bar was added and a three-way liquor license was obtained. In 1967, the hotel was completely remodeled to provide modern facilities in the rooms and to enlarge the dining area.
A 9 hole golf course was built in 1957 and later expanded to 18 holes in 1962. It is hilly and provides an excellent view of the lake.
For many years, dancing was the main attraction. Well known local bands such as Jimmy Steer, Max Greer, and university orchestras from Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan played summer engagements. There were many traveling orchestras playing the East and Middle west. Some of the nationally known were Woody Herman, Glen Miller, Johnny Long, Jimmy / Tommy Dorsey, Ray Anthony, Artie Shaw, etc. The popularity of dancing devlined in the late 40's and early 50's until Rock music capture the attention of the newer generations. With WOWO disk jockeys hosting large crowds came to dance to music with a beat. Rock bands such as the Beach Boys, Jerry E. Lewis, Johnny and the Hurricanes, along with local rock groups shared the stage with the D.J.s. By the 90's, the teenagers had grown into adults and are again dancing ot their music played by local groups such as Spike and the Bulldogs, and the Junk Yard Band.
At the turn of a new century, Cold Springs facilities are the hotel, dining room, bar, beach, golf course, cottage park, and 50's and 60's dances on select nights.
The managers are Robert and David Watkins, the fifth generation of the Watkins family to operate the resort.