While many of the park's features had been described by mountain men and other explorers, the West Thumb area was the first Yellowstone feature to be written about in a publication. Daniel T. Potts, a trapper in the Yellowstone region in the 1820s, wrote a letter to his brother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, regarding his experiences in this area.
The letter was later corrected for punctuation and spelling and printed in the Philadelphia Gazette on September 27, 1827. Part of the letter describing the northern part of the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which is currently known as "Potts Basin" follows:
...on the south borders of this lake is a number of hot and boiling springs some of water and others of most beautiful fine clay and resembles that of a mush pot and throws its particles to the immense height of from twenty to thirty feet in height[.] The clay is white and of a pink and water appears fathomless as it appears to be entirely hollow under neath. There is also a number of places where the pure sulfur is sent forth in abundance[.] One of our men visited one of those whilst taking his recreation[.] There at an instant the earth began a tremendous trembling and he with difficulty made his escape when an explosion took place resembling that of thunder. During our stay in that quarter I heard it every day[.]
In 1869, the first scientific expedition to explore the Yellowstone area, the Folsom- Cook-Peterson Expedition, visited the West Thumb Geyser Basin. David Folsom described the area as follows:
Among these were springs differing from any we had previously seen. They were situated along the shore for a distance of two miles, extending back from it about five hundred yards and into the lake perhaps as many feet. There were several hundred springs here, varying in size from miniature fountains to pools or wells seventy-five feet in diameter and of great depth. The water had a pale violet tinge, and was very clear, enabling us to discern small objects fifty or sixty feet below the surface. A small cluster of mud springs near by claimed our attention. These were filled with mud, resembling thick paint of the finest quality, differing in color from pure white to the various shades of yellow, pink, red and violet. During the afternoon they threw mud to the height of fifteen feet. . . .
Historically, visitors travelling to Yellowstone would arrive at West Thumb via stagecoach from the Old Faithful area. At West Thumb, they had the choice of continuing on the dusty, bumpy stagecoach or boarding the steamship "Zillah" to continue the journey to the Lake Hotel. The boat dock was located near the south end of the basin near Lakeside Spring.
The West Thumb area used to be the site of a large campground, cabins, a photo shop, a cafeteria, and a gas station. This development was located immediately next to the geyser basin with the park road passing between the two. In an effort to further protect the scenic quality and the very resource that visitors were coming to see, the National Park Service removed this development in the 1980s.