Dawson Springs (population 3129), located on a bend of the Tradewater River, was once a Native American trading village. The earliest white settlers arrived in 1808 and called their village Chalklevel.
The Dawson family purchased a large parcel of land in 1869, engaging in farming and the lumber business. They helped bring the railroad to town by donating land for a depot, and then laid out a town and sold lots.
The completion of the railroad in 1872 and a post office in 1874 in what was then known at Tradewater Station led to rapid growth. Dawson City was incorporated in 1882 and, with the discovery of local mineral water springs, renamed Dawson Springs in 1898.
Between 1882 and the turn of the century, the population grew nearly tenfold. The town became one of the most popular health resorts in the upper South, with as many as 12 passenger trains bringing tourists every day during the season. With the decline of the spas and the relocation of the railroad, coal mining became an important part of the economy, with the last mine closing in 1960.
Though many historic hotels, boarding houses, and other buildings were lost over the intervening years, the City of Dawson Springs, along with the business and preservation community and its Main Street program, today actively promotes heritage tourism and downtown economic revitalization. With the help of Transportation Enhancements funding, this partnership has recently preserved and rehabilitated the historic Darby House as a Transportation Museum and Welcome Center.
Other heritage tourism projects include the development of a play about local history, a historic Tradewater River tour, and a pedestrian bridge across the river, connecting downtown to the historic ball field used for spring training by the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1915-1917 and by other teams through the 1930s. A new stadium, built in early 20th-century style in the same ballpark, opened on the fourth of July in 1999.
Much of the commercial town center is listed as a National Register Historic District, and Dawson Springs is a Certified Local Government and a Renaissance Kentucky Gold-Level community.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2004.