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History of Early American Landscape Design

Berkeley Springs

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Berkeley Springs, a resort area in present-day Morgan County, West Virginia, has been well known for its mineral springs since the precolonial period. The Virginia Assembly established the town of Bath (later renamed Berkeley Springs) in 1776, and the town’s trustees soon commissioned the construction of public bathhouses in the town square. It has remained a prominent public spa and leisure destination since the time of its founding.

Overview

Alternate Names: Warm Springs; Medicinal Springs; Frederick Springs; Bath
Site Dates: precolonial to present
Site Owner(s): Sixth Lord Fairfax (1719–1776); Trustees of Bath (1776–1925); West Virginia Commissioner of Public Institutions (1925–1970); West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (1970 to present)
Associated People: James Rumsey (builder), Charles Varlé (designer)
Location: Morgan County, WV
Condition: extant; altered
View on Google maps


History

Berkeley Springs is located 1,710 feet above sea level in a valley on the eastern edge of Warm Springs Ridge less than a mile east of the Potomac River in present-day Morgan County, West Virginia.[1] The alleged medicinal properties of the area’s mineral springs drew people to both consume and bathe in the waters, and attracted various Native American peoples to visit the area long before European colonists began using the springs regularly around 1740.[2]

Fig. 1, John Warner, A survey of the northern neck of Virginia. . . ca. 1747 [detail].

During the colonial period, the springs lay within the Northern Neck Proprietary, a territory of more than five million acres between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers that belonged to Thomas, Baron Cameron, sixth Lord Fairfax (1693–1781).[3] Since this time, the springs have been known by many names, including Warm Springs, the appellation used in an early survey map of the Northern Neck [Fig. 1].[4] By the mid-1740s, white settlers had reportedly begun to erect makeshift accommodations in the area.[5] As early as June 1747, Fairfax proposed a town and promised to “give all Encouragement to invite People to inhabit and Settle there" (view text). A young George Washington, serving as an assistant on a surveying trip for Lord Fairfax, recorded in his diary his first visit to the “Fam’d Warm Springs” in March 1748, suggesting the site’s familiarity to Virginia colonists by this early date (view text).

Although a town was not officially established at Berkeley Springs for another thirty years, the waters continued to attract visitors of different backgrounds and social classes who sought a cure for ailments such as rheumatism or who simply desired rest and relaxation.[6] Moravian missionaries Joseph Spangenberg and Matthew Reutz stopped at Berkeley Springs in 1748 and enjoyed the proximity of the site’s warm and cold springs, noting that “being in the one, you can reach into the other."[7] Dr. Thomas Walker of Albemarle County recorded his encounter in 1750 with “Six Invalids” and found the springs to be “very clear and warmer than New milk” (view text). When Washington returned to Berkeley Springs in August 1761 to seek relief from rheumatic fever, he found more than two hundred people “of both sexes…full of all manner of diseases & Complaints.” This number is surprising given how difficult it was to reach the springs during this period; Washington found the terrain to be quite rugged and struggled to pass a road blocked by fallen trees. After completing the arduous trip, bathers often had to construct their own rudimentary shelters. Washington was grateful to have secured a tent to pitch, writing that otherwise he “would have been in a most miserable situation” (view text). By August 1769, the amenities at the springs had apparently improved enough for Washington to bring his wife and stepdaughter with him in a desperate bid to treat the latter’s seizures (view text).[8] Philip Vickers Fithian (1747–1776), a diarist and Presbyterian minister, stopped in 1775 to drink the waters while on a missionary tour of the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier. He reported approximately four hundred people at Berkeley Springs—about half of whom he estimated to be ill. The other half were there presumably to enjoy what had evolved into a site of leisure with various evening entertainments, including a ball, card games, and, to his dismay, “promiscuous Company” engaged in “Amusements in all Shapes” (view text).

The influx of summer visitors prompted the Virginia General Assembly to improve the site and formally establish a town at the springs. A 1776 act called for “the laying off of fifty acres of land in lots and streets” in the hopes of “encouraging the purchasers thereof to build convenient houses for accommodating numbers of infirm person, who frequent those springs yearly for the recovery of their health.”[9] The town, which the Assembly named Bath after the spa in Somerset, England, was to be comprised of one-quarter acre lots laid out by appointed trustees. Proceeds from the sale of the lots at public auction were to be paid by the trustees to Lord Fairfax, and purchasers were required to build houses “twelve feet square at least” on their new parcels within a year. The springs—save for one, which remained under the private ownership of Lord Fairfax—were to “be vested in the said trustees in trust, to and for the public use and benefit” (view text).[10] The August 1777 sale attracted several prominent individuals from Maryland and Virginia, including Washington, to purchase lots in Bath (view text).[11]

Fig. 2, Samuel Vaughan, Warm or Berkley Springs, in Virginia, from the diary of Samuel Vaughan, June–September 1787.

Bath’s streets took the form of a gridded plan arranged just below a large square, as recorded by Samuel Vaughan in his diary in 1787 [Fig. 2] (view text). In another sketch of Berkeley Springs, Vaughan observed the formation of islands surrounded by the warm spring’s flows, as well as the arrangement of the public baths, noting a separate “Bath for Poor People [g]” [Fig. 3]. Separate baths for men and women constructed in the square in 1786 were likely the work of James Rumsey (c. 1743–1792), an inventor, builder, and “jack-of-all-trades” who had opened a general store and boarding house in town in 1782.[12] The so-called Roman Baths, which are still extant, are in a two-story brick building with a hipped roof that contains ten individual bath stalls built initially for use by men. Each stall is accessible by a private entrance from the long hallway that runs along the length of the first floor. On the building’s east elevation, a row of ten openings provides ventilation to each stall. The other extant eighteenth-century building, the old bathhouse or shower bath, was initially constructed for women. The building, a one-story brick building with a hipped roof, is smaller.[13] Vaughan's textual description of Bath notes a flurry of building activity in the town’s early years, including 164 houses constructed over a four-year period, a playhouse, a Methodist church, and several taverns with piazzas that were among “the best calculated for America of any [he had] seen”(view text).

Fig. 3, Samuel Vaughan, Plan of Bath (Berkeley Springs), VA [detail], 1787, from the diary of Samuel Vaughan, June-September 1787.

Berkeley Springs continued to prosper as a resort until about 1805 when a fever plagued the summer guest population, reducing the number of seasonal visitors by more than half for the next several years. The relative inaccessibility of Berkeley Springs compared to other springs in the region also contributed to its decline. In 1809 Charles Varlé proposed a redesign to improve Bath’s public garden. His drawing indicated, among other features, a canal with a foot bridge [A], a basin with a jet d’eau in the center [B & C], a reservoir or fountain “covered with a vine treliage in a form of a dome or copula” [E], an additional bath [F], a sunken bowling green [H] within a parterre, a two-sided sundial [I] located near the basin and bowling green, and two labyrinths “contrived so as to be different in their issues and windings” [K] [Fig. 4]. Colonel Robert Bailey (1773–1827), an infamous gambler and entrepreneur, also made a concerted effort to revitalize the resort’s reputation. In an 1813 advertisement he promoted the quality of the springs’ waters, baths, walks, and lodging, and personally guaranteed that visitors who stayed in his guesthouse would be well satisfied (view text).

Fig. 4, Charles Varlé, Project for the Improvement of the Square and the Town of Bath [detail], c. 1809.
Fig. 5, Sophie Madeleine du Pont, Octagonal Bath at Warm Springs (Berkeley Springs), 1837.

Visitors to Berkeley Springs during the first half of the nineteenth century celebrated the quality of the springs but sometimes found the town’s infrastructure and amenities wanting. In 1816 James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860) declared “the spring which supplies the ladies’ bath is one of the finest I have ever seen” (view text). By 1831, Dr. H. H. Hayden wrote of his disappointment in the “appearance of dilapidation and ruins” that characterized most of Bath’s buildings, although he praised the springs and “the fine and spacious baths attached to them” (view text). The author and Virginia historian Samuel Kercheval (1767–1845) took a more favorable view in 1833, celebrating the well-known seasonal appeal of Berkeley Springs as a destination for “recreation and pleasure” (view text). Sophie du Pont, who visited the springs in 1837, on the other hand, found “nothing very pretty about [Bath], except its situation, in an undulating valley,” but commended the large octagonal bathhouse [Fig. 5], as “one of the most curious & beautiful objects I have seen, the water is pure & translucent to an almost dazzling degree.” She bathed in a smaller bathhouse comprising four small stalls, including one with a spout [Fig. 6], which she tried at her doctor’s behest (view text).

Fig. 6, Sophie Madeleine du Pont, Spout bath at Warm Springs (Berkeley Springs), 1837.
Fig. 7, David H. Strother (artist) and Erneste Szemelňyi (composer), A Day at Berkeley Springs. A Descriptive Piece, op. 27, sheet music cover, 1851.
Fig. 7, David H. Strother (artist) and Erneste Szemelňyi (composer), A Day at Berkeley Springs. A Descriptive Piece, op. 27, notated music, 1851.

The town’s fortunes improved with the extension in 1842 of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad into Sir John’s Run, located just to the west of Bath, making Berkeley Springs the only major resort in the state accessible by rail at that time. But, in a devastating blow to the recent revitalization efforts, an 1844 fire destroyed most of the eighteenth-century buildings. Colonel John Strother (1792–1862), who had operated boardinghouses in town before the fire, built the Berkeley Springs Hotel (also known by the names Pavilion Hotel and Strother’s Hotel), which was completed in 1848 at the southern end of the park. It was the largest building at the resort and could accommodate four hundred guests.[14] Dr. John J. Moorman wrote in 1854 that the u-shaped hotel was situated next to a grove and that the courtyard was “tastefully ornamented with trees, flowers, and shrubbery” (view text). Strother’s son David H. Strother (1816–1888), an artist, included in his 1851 sheet music cover for “A Day at Berkeley Springs” (an instrumental “descriptive piece” composed by Erneste Szemelňyi) a depiction of the hotel at the left as well as the public pavilion and fountain at the center [Fig. 7]. The hotel remained a popular accommodation and entertainment venue—known for hosting lively balls and concerts—until it was destroyed by fire in March 1898.[15]

Although Berkeley Spring’s popularity ebbed and flowed over time—as transportation developments made the town more accessible to tourists at the same time that fires and other challenges (not least the U.S. Civil War) caused significant setbacks—it has remained open to the public since its founding in 1776. West Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources has overseen the public square and bathhouses, which operate as Berkeley Springs State Park, since 1970.

Lacey Baradel


Texts

  • Lord Fairfax, June 1, 1747, in a letter to an unknown recipient (possibly Warner Washington) describing his plans for land near Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (quoted in Conway 1892: 246–47)[16]
“Having been informed that several Persons who go to drink and bath in the Medicinal Springs near the Mountains of Cape Capon and River Potomack, within my Proprietary, do not unnecessarily bark and cut down Timber Trees on the waste and ungranted Lands near the said Springs and the Mountain adjacent, more than useful for the erecting and building the Houses and Cottages required to shelter them, I desire You will in my Name use your best Endeavors to prevent such waste of Timber. . . .
You may assure the Gentlemen and Others that if the Waters continue to be useful in relieving the Sick I shall cause the Lands around the Springs to be surveyd, and Number of convenient Lots laid off for a Town, also give all Encouragement to invite People to inhabit and Settle there.” back up to History


  • Washington, George, March 18, 1748, in a diary entry describing a visit to Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV)[17]
“We Travell’d up about 35 Miles to Thomas Barwicks on Potomack where we found the River so excessively high by Reason of the Great Rains that had fallen up about the Allegany Mountains as they told us which was then bringing down the melted Snow & that it would not be fordable for severall Days it was then above Six foot Higher than usual & was Rising. We agreed to stay till Monday. We this day call’d to see the Fam’d Warm Springs. We camped out in the field this Night.” back up to History


  • Walker, Thomas, July 9, 1750, in a diary entry describing a visit to Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (quoted in McAllister 1911: 172)[18]
“July 9th, we went to the Hot Springs and found Six Invalids there. The Spring Water is very clear and warmer than New milk and there is a Spring of cold Water within 20 feet of the Warm one.” back up to History


  • Washington, George, August 26–30, 1761, in a letter to Charles Green describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV)[19]
“To begin then—We arrivd here yesterday, and our Journey (as you may imagine) was not of the most agreable sort, through such Weather & such Roads as we had to encounter; these last for 20 or 25 Miles from hence are almost impassable for Carriages; not so much from the Mountainous Country (but this in fact is very rugged) as from Trees that have fallen across the Road, and renderd the ways intolerable.
We found of both sexes about 2⟨5⟩0 People at this place, full of all manner of diseases & Complaints; some of which are much benefitted, while others find no relief from the Water’s—two or three Doctors are here, but whether attending as Physicians or to Drink of the Waters I know not—It is thought the Springs will soon begin to loose there Virtues, and the Weather get too cold for People, not well provided, to remain here—They are situated very badly on the East side of a steep Mountain, and Inclosed by Hills on all Sides, so that the Afternoon’s Sun is hid by 4 Oclock and the Fogs hang over us till 9 or 10 wch occasion’s great Damps and the Mornings and Evenings to be cool.
The Place I am told, and indeed have found it so already, is supplyed with Provisions of all kinds—good Beef & venison, fine Veal, Lamb, Fowls &ca may be bought at almost any time; but Lodgings can be had on no Terms but building for them, and I am of opinion that numbers get more hurt by there manner of lying, than the Waters can do them good—had we not succeeded in getting a Tent & marquee from Winchester we shoud have been in a most miserable situation here.
In regard to myself I must beg leave to say, that I was much overcome with the fatigue of the Ride & Weather together—however I think my Fevers are a good deal abated, altho my Pains grow rather worse, & my sleep equally disturbd; what effect the Waters may have upon me I cant say at present, but I expect Nothing from the Air—this certainly must be unwholesome—I purpose to stay here a fortnight & longer if benefitted.” back up to History


  • Washington, George, August 18, 1769, in a letter to John Armstrong describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV)[20]
“About a fortnight ago I came to this place with Mrs Washington and her daughter, the latter of whom being troubled with a complaint, which the efficacy of these Waters it is thought might remove, we resolvd to try them, but have found little benefit as yet from the experiment; what a Week or two more may do, we know not, & therefore are inclind to put them to the Test. it was with much pleasure however I hear by Mr Clingan that you stand in no need of assistance from these Springs which I find are applied to in all cases, altho. there be a moral certainty of their hurting in some—Many poor, miserable objects are now attending here, which I hope will receive the desired benefit, as I dare say they are deprivd of the means of obtaining any other relief, from their Indigent Circumstances.” back up to History


  • Fithian, Philip Vickers, August 31–September 1, 1775, in diary entries describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (Fithian 1934: 123–26)[21]
“August 31
Warm Spring by 4 Evening. . . . Cloudy sloppy Day. . . .
Huge Stone tumbled from the Mountain directly to the Drinking-Spring. . . .
I took Lodging at Mrs. Baker’s. Mr. Miller, an aged Rheumatic Invalid taken ill in the Bath.
Fryday Sept: 1
Drank early & freely of the Waters. About four Hundred now present. Near one Half of these visibly indisposed. Many in sore Distress. . . . Tickets going about for a Ball this Evening. . . .
Evening
In one Part of the little bush Village a splendid Ball—At some Distance, & within hearing, a Methodist Preacher was haranguing the People. Frequent Writings on the Plates, &c—In our dining Room Companies at Cards. . . . I walked out among the Bushes here also was—Amusements in all Shapes, & in high Degrees, are constantly taking Place among so promiscuous Company. The Observation, when on the Spot, to see it in real Life. I can picture it out but sadly, is curious & improving.” back up to History


  • General Assembly of Virginia, October 1776, in an Act establishing the town of Bath at Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (quoted in Gardiner and Gardiner 1938: 50–51)[22]
“Whereas it hath been represented to this General Assembly, that the laying off of fifty acres of land in lots and streets for a town at the Warm Springs in the county of Berkeley, will be of great utility by encouraging the purchasers thereof to build convenient houses for accommodating numbers of infirm persons, who frequent those springs yearly for the recovery of their health: Be it enacted,. . . That fifty acres of land adjoining the said springs, being a part of a larger tract of land, the property of the Right Thomas Lord Fairfax, or other person or persons holding the same by a grant or conveyance of him, be and is hereby vested in Bryan Fairfax, Thomas Bryan Martin, Warner Washington, the Reverend Charles Mynn Thurston, Robert Rutherford, Alexander White, Philip Pendleton, Samuel Washington, William Ellzey, Van Searingen, Thomas Hite, James N. Edmundson, James Nourse, Gentlemen, trustees, to be by them, or any seven of them, laid out into lots of one quarter of an acre each with convenient streets, which shall be and the same is hereby established a town, by the name of Bath. . . . The said lots to be sold at public auction. . . . The purchasers building a dwelling house twelve feet square at least…trustees to pay the money from the sale to Thomas Lord Fairfax.
And be it further enacted, That all the said Warm Springs except one large and convenient spring suitable for a bath, shall be vested in the said trustees in trust, to and for the public use and benefit and for no other purpose whatsoever.” back up to History


  • Washington, George, October 27, 1777, in a letter to Samuel Washington describing his purchase of land at Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV)[23]
“I am very glad Colo. Lewis purchased a Lott or two for me at the Warm Springs, as it was always my Intention to become a Proprietor there if a Town should be laid off at that place. Two Lotts is not more than I wish’d to possess, but if he is altogether disappointed, and cannot be otherwise supplied, I will, under those circumstances, part with one of mine—of this you will inform him; and I shall not only depend upon, but thank, & pay you chearfully, for the Improvements which are necessarily erected for the saving of the Lotts. As I do not know what Sort of Buildings the Act of Assembly requires to save the Lotts, I can give no directions about them; but, if I hold both Lotts which I had rather do I would reserve the best spott for a tolerable convenient dwelling House to be built hereafter. and, if a House which may (hereafter) serve for a Kitchen, together with a Stable, would be sufficient to save the Lotts, they might be so placed as to appear uniform & clever, when the whole are finished, and in that case, content myself with building for the present no more than the Kitchen and Stable.” back up to History


  • Anonymous, June 19, 1784, notice in a Richmond, VA, newspaper describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (quoted in Gardiner and Gardiner 1938: 53)[24]
“In Berkeley County five bathing houses, with adjacent dressing rooms, are already completed; an assembly room and theatre are also constructed for the innocent and rational amusement of the polite who may assemble there.
The American Company of Comedians, it is expected, will open there, under the direction of Mr. Ryan, on the 15th of July, and to continue till the 1st of September. It is supposed they will prove so acceptable to the Bathers as to encourage the proprietor to renew his visits yearly.”


  • Washington, George, September 6, 1784, in a diary entry describing his plans for his property at Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV)[25]
“Having obtained a Plan of this Town (Bath) and ascertained the situation of my lots therein, which I examined; it appears that the disposition of a dwelling House; Kitchen & Stable cannot be more advantageously placed than they are marked in the copy I have taken from the plan of the Town; to which I refer for recollection, of my design; & Mr. Rumsey being willing to undertake those Buildings, I have agreed with him to have them finished by the 10th. of next July. The dwelling House is to be 36 feet by 24, with a gallery of 7 feet on each side of the House, the whole fronts. Under the House is to be a Cellar half the size of it, walled with Stone, and the whole underpined. On the first floor are to be 3 rooms; one of them 24 by 20 feet, with a chimney at the end (middle thereof)—the other two to be 12 by 16 feet with corner chimneys. On the upper Floor there are to be two rooms of equal sizes, with fire places; the Stair case to go up in the Gallery—galleries above also. The Kitchen and Stable are to be of the same size—18 by 22; the first with a stone Chimney and good floor above. The Stable is to be sunk in the ground, so as that the floor above it on the North, or side next the dwelling House, shall be level with the Yard—to have a partition therein—the West part of which to be for a Carriage, Harness, and Saddles—the East for Hay or Grain—all three of the Houses to be shingled with [ ]”


  • Vaughan, Samuel, July 14, 1787, in a diary entry describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (Vaughan: 32, 34–35)[26]
“The warm Baths, as on the otherside [sic], are situated on the lower side of a square on the East Mountain, & opposite to the principal Street. The Town consists of three long parallel streets & eight at right Angles. There is at present 172 houses, of which 164 have been built within the last four years, a play house well constructed, an Assembly & tea room, a house for the poor[,] a Methodist Church building & Mr. Wolley of Liverpool having bought a Double large framed house, hath this spring built adjoining these to a dining room 54 by 24, five bard rooms adjoining & a drawing room 18 by 24 over which an Assembly room 72 feet by 24 & 14 feet high, & a tea room 33 feet by 25, with piazzas on both side [of] the houses all completely framed & well filled, which is to be called the Bell Inn. There are several other taverns three of them good framed houses of 2 stories, with piazzas & seats round to both stories & on both sides & the best calculated for America of any I have seen. The town is situated in a vale & partly on the side of the East & west Mountain, the Lots differing in Elevation. At the South end of the town on the west hill there is a range of Rocks & a mile above there is a remarkable cold [?] spring. The warm springs flow in great abundance from the base of the western mountain, forming three romantick Islands, & when all accumilated [sic] forms a large body of water which runs diagonally through the town. The hills on each side with beautiful hanging woods, renders the whole truly picturesque, romantick and original; the climate is temperate, provisions cheap & plenty, except greens which are scarce. A charming retreat in hot or unhealthy weather, tho too much used for disipation [sic] & gambling, The water is pure & light, without any apparent medical quality, tho found in many cases beneficial. To try their effect & for 3 days drink 3 quarts each day & that only, it causes a swimming [sic] in my head, want quickly of an opening quality by urine & I thought it created an appetite; it is scarcely so warm as milk from the Cow & said to be 57 degrees Fahrenheit thermal. There were 4 Methodist preachers (two for health,) services 3 times on Sunday & once or twice on week days, which are well attended by the lower sort to the neglect on week days of their businesses & families. There was 14 or 15 stores & like many well furnished with goods, for which I should think there was little encouragement; when I left it there was not above 30 persons of note arrived, but it was early in the Season.” back up to History


“Having inquired after the family I had left, the conversation turned upon Bath, to which they were going. He said he had known the place when there was scarce a house upon it fit to step in, that the accommodations were, he believed, very good at present. He thought the best thing a family, regularly and constantly visiting Bath, could do would be to build a house for their separate accommodation, the expense of which might be two hundred pounds. He has himself a house there which he supposed must be going to ruin. Independent of his public situation, the increased dissipation and frequency of visitors would be an objection to his visiting it again, unless the health of himself or family should render it necessary. At first that was the motive, he said, that induced people to encounter the badness of the roads and the inconvenience of the lodgings, but at present few, he believed, in comparison of the whole number, had health in view. Even those whose object it was, were interrupted in their quiet by the dissipation of the rest. This, he observed, must naturally be the case in every large collection of men whose minds were not occupied by pressing business or personal interest. In these and many more observations of the same kind there was no moroseness nor anything that appeared as if the rapidly increasing immorality of the citizens particularly impressed him at the time he made them. They seemed the well-expressed remarks of a man who has seen and knows the world.”


  • Bailey, Robert, June 26, 1813, in a promotion in the Winchester Gazette for Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (Bailey 1813: 3)[28]
“Those Ladies and Gentlemen, of Winchester in particular, and the state in general, wishing to visit Bath Berkeley Springs in Virginia, (near Martinsburg,) being the Theatre of America for three months of the year (June, July, August, and even September,) are respectfully informed that the Waters are in their strongest state and in the greatest purity; the Baths and Walks in the best order, and every attention paid by the subscriber, to render full satisfaction. . . . [T]he public may depend on having the best accommodation—clean beds and bedding, with comfortable rooms; choice liquors, wines, &c. which have been carefully collected; and the tables will be decorated in the first style.
The subscriber having several houses at Berkeley Springs, he will make the table to suit parties, or have a general table as the Guests may think proper.
The subscriber has a Drawing Room furnished for the Ladies, a Piano Forte, Maps of different kinds, reading room, &c—a grand Band of Music for balls, once or twice a week as the company may thing [sic] proper. The very best servants are selected for attendance, and every attention paid. . . ." back up to History


  • Paulding, James Kirke, 1816, describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (1817: 2:227, 235–36)[29]
“As it is prevailing opinion among your fellow-citizens, that there is nothing refined to the south of Schuylkill, and no watering-place worth visiting except Long-Branch, I will try and set you right in this matter. The truth is, these springs are as gay, as fashionable, and far more delightfully situated than any I have ever visited. In all the constituents of a fashionable watering-place, Berkeley maintains a most respectable rank, inasmuch as it affords as great a variety of character, as many gay equipages, and gay people, and almost as great a lack of variety of amusement, as Ballston or Long-Branch. . . .
. . . we staid nearly a week at Berkeley. There is a fine drawing-room here, in which the ladies meet to chat, or work, and play at chess, or devise some pleasant excursion. Every night or two there is a ball, in a very splendid room appropriated to that purpose; and in afternoons it is pleasant to stroll backwards and forwards along the brook that skirts the green in front of the springs, that gush out from the foot of the mountain. There is a pavilion built over the spring, which is used for drinking, and two bath-houses —one for either sex. The spring which supplies the ladies’ bath is one of the finest I have ever seen. It bursts from a fissure in the rock in the form of a cone, much larger than the crown of a hat, and, together with the others, forms a fine stream, in some places six or eight yards wide. This place was formerly the property of the family of Fairfax, once lords of a great portion of the tract of country called the Great Northern Neck of Virginia, situated between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. One of these potent chieftains vested the springs and a little tract around in trustees, to be chosen from time to time, for the use of all comers for ever. People using the baths pay a small sum, which is appropriated by the trustees to keeping up the repairs of the place, and other objects of utility and ornament.” back up to History


  • Hayden, Dr. H. H., 1829, describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (1831: 102–03)[30]
“On my return from Bedford springs, I passed by the way of Pigeon-cove Valley, across the narrow part of Maryland into Virginia, to Bath or Berkeley springs, so called, being in what was but recently Berkeley county. These springs issues from the food and on the east side of an abrupt and elevated ridge, running in a north east direction, about five miles, to the Potomac River, where it terminates, opposite the town of Hancock, Maryland. Little can be said in favor of the village of Bath, since, with the exception of a few buildings, it presents the appearance of dilapidation and ruins. The accommodations for visitors are, however, tolerable, at least for such as are not fastidious. The springs, which are principally magnesian and justly celebrated, especially for the chronic affections, and also the fine and spacious baths attached to them, constitute the principal inducement that attracts persons to this place. Indeed, such is their celebrity, that they are, annually, during the months of July and August, frequented, (and that too in no inconsiderable numbers,) by persons of the highest respectability.” back up to History


  • Kercheval, Samuel, 1833, describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (1833: 473)[31]
“This is doubtless the most ancient watering place in the valley. Tradition relates that those springs were known to the Indians as possessing valuable medicinal properties, and were much frequented by them. They were anciently called the ‘Berkeley Warm Springs,’ and have always kept their character for their medical virtues. They are much resorted to not only for their value as medicinal waters, but as a place (in the season) of recreation and pleasure. Bath has become a considerable village, is the seat of justice in Morgan county, and has several stores and fine boarding houses. It is too publicly known to require further notice in this work.” back up to History


  • Du Pont, Sophie Madeleine, July 21, 1837, in a letter to Clementina Smith describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (quoted in Low and Hinsley 1987: 173, 176, 177, 179)[32]
“Warm Springs. . . . The most abundant of these gushes from the earth in the middle of a large octagonal basin of mason work covered with a wooden building having an opening at the top, & four neat & comfortable rooms on as many sides for the accommodation of bathing. This bath is thirty eight feet in diameter; & the temperature of water 96 degrees—It is one of the most curious & beautiful objects I have seen, the water is pure & translucent to an almost dazzling degree, & rises in ceaseless flow, accompanied by showers of bright gleaming air bubbles. . . .
The settlement of the springs, consisting of two large brick hotels with long piazzas in front, & several rows of brick or log cabins, has nothing very pretty about it, except its situation, in an undulating valley completely embosomed in the mountains. Altho’ there is so little company here that we had our choice of rooms anywhere, we preferred a cabin, to be nearer the spring; & we could not have made a better choice….
Our domicile consists of two rooms communicating, in which we have every thing we want to make us comfortable, & a very attentive & obliging maid to bring us our meals & all we wish for – The front door (from my room) opens towards the roads, & on a path which leads up to the hotel! The door of Elizas room leads out into a green sloping meadow, planted with trees, in the centre of which are the warm springs….
There are several other springs of the same kind in the meadow—round one a platform is built with benches, under shady trees, for those who drink the water, which notwithstanding its odour of half spoiled eggs & its warmth, is not very nauseous to the taste—Another bath house contains four small baths, into one of which a spout is arranged for the benefit of those who are recommended to take douches. I have tried this at Dr Horner’s request & think it of service to me, as well as the bathing." back up to History


  • Moorman, Dr. John J., 1854, describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (1854: 264–65)[33]
“The gentlemen’s bath house, a substantial brick building, contains ten large bathing rooms. The baths are of cement, 12 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 4 ½ deep, filled from a reservoir by a four inch pipe, and containing about 1600 gallons each. In addition to this, and for the use of the gentlemen, there is a swimming bath, 60 feet long by 20 wide, and 5 feet deep, containing 50,000 gallons. The superstructure is handsome and tasteful, 82 feet long, and contains 14 dressing rooms. The luxury of disporting in this ample and exhilarating pool can only by appreciated by those who have indulged in it.
The ladies’ bath house is an elegant structure on the opposite side of the grove, 90 feet long, which contains in addition to 9 private baths, a plunge bath 30 feet long by 16 feet wide, 4 ½ feet deep, and floored with white marble. There is also an establishment for shower spout and artificial warm baths. The bathing area is surrounded by a beautiful grove several acres in extent and handsomely improved.
The Hotel accommodations are extensive and well gotten up.
Strother’s, the principal hotel at the place, is a large, elegant and well conducted establishment, adjoining the grove, and will comfortably accommodate about 400 persons. It is built upon three sides of a quadrangle 168 feet front by 198, the front building being four stories high, the wings respectively being two and three stories. The court-yard is tastefully ornamented with trees, flowers, and shrubbery. Altogether it constitutes one of the most extensive and comfortable establishments to be found at any of our places of fashionable resort.” back up to History


  • R.J., 1854, describing Berkeley Springs, VA (later WV) (1854: 264–65)[34]
“The swimming bath is for pure recreation and cleanliness, a delightful place. It is fifty or sixty feet long, about forty feet broad, and as clear as crystal. The depth is about five feet—the bottom smooth cement. It is the finest bath I have ever seen, though doubtless there are many larger. You reach the baths through the grove, which is a pleasant promenade. It extends nearly to the top of the mountain. . . . For simple recreation, no place could be more agreeable; and the man who visits Berkeley and the White Sulphur and Saratoga, and returns in preference to either of the latter, is a hopeless case.”

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Notes

  1. David L. Taylor, “Town of Bath Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2009), 3, view on Zotero.
  2. James E. Harding, “Berkeley Springs State Park,” National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form (National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1976), 3, view on Zotero.
  3. Lord Fairfax inherited one-sixth of the Northern Neck Proprietary upon the death of his maternal grandmother in the spring of 1710. He inherited the remaining five-sixths of the proprietary from his mother, Katherine Culpeper Fairfax, in May 1719. She had inherited the land from her father, Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, who had served as governor of Virginia from 1677–1683. See Warren R. Hofstra, “Thomas Fairfax, sixth baron Fairfax of Cameron (1693–1781)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia, 2016, http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Fairfax_Thomas_baron_Fairfax_of_Cameron.
  4. This is not to be confused with the town Warm Springs located in Bath County, Virginia, which has also attracted visitors since the colonial period. For more on the history of Warm Springs, Virginia, see Carl Bridenbaugh, “Baths and Watering Places of Colonial America,” The William and Mary Quarterly 3, no. 2 (April 1946): 163, view on Zotero.
  5. Harding 1976, 3, view on Zotero.
  6. Bridenbaugh 1946, 161, view on Zotero.
  7. Quoted in William J. Hinke and Charles E. Kemper, “Moravian Diaries of Travels through Virginia (Continued),” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 11, no. 3 (January 1904): 238, view on Zotero.
  8. According to Jeanne Mozier and Betty Lou Harmison, Washington was able to stay in houses during his visits to Warm Springs in the late 1760s, including a house that belonged to his friend James Mercer. Berkeley Springs, Images of America (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011), 7, view on Zotero.
  9. Harding 1976, 5–6, view on Zotero.
  10. Taylor 2009, 55, view on Zotero; and Mozier and Harmison 2011, 7, view on Zotero.
  11. Washington purchased two lots located on the southeast corner of Fairfax and Mercer streets, two blocks from the springs, for the cost of 100 pounds and 15 shillings. Other early Bath landholders included Horatio Gates, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Charles Mynn Thruston, and Fielding Lewis, among others. Taylor 2009, 56, view on Zotero; and Harding 1976, 6, view on Zotero.
  12. Harding 1976, 6, view in Zotero; and Mabel Henshaw Gardiner and Ann Henshaw Gardiner, Chronicles of Old Berkeley: A Narrative History of a Virginia County from Its Beginnings to 1926 (Durham, NC: The Seeman Press, 1938), 222, view in Zotero. The early bathhouses at Berkeley Springs were likely constructed by Rumsey, but this is not certain. See Taylor 2009, 57, view in Zotero.
  13. Taylor 2009, 56, view on Zotero; and Harding 1976, 2, view on Zotero.
  14. Harding 1976, 6–7, view on Zotero; Taylor 2009, 58, view on Zotero; and Mozier and Harmison 2011, 8, view on Zotero.
  15. Harding 1976, 8, view on Zotero.
  16. Moncure Daniel Conway, Barons of the Potomack and the Rappahannock (New York: The Grolier Club, 1892), view on Zotero.
  17. Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.
  18. J. T. McAllister, “Early Settlers in Greenbrier County. Extracts from the Journal of Dr. Thomas Walker,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 19, no. 2 (April 1911), view on Zotero.
  19. Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.
  20. Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.
  21. Philip Vickers Fithian, Philip Vickers Fithian: Journal, 1775–1776. Written on the Virginia-Pennsylvania Frontier and in the Army Around New York, eds. Robert Greenhalgh Albion and Leonidas Dodson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1934), view on Zotero.
  22. Gardiner and Gardiner 1938, view on Zotero.
  23. Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.
  24. Gardiner and Gardiner 1938, view on Zotero.
  25. Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.
  26. Samuel Vaughan, Samuel Vaughan Diary, 1787–1796, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, view in Zotero.
  27. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, The Journal of Latrobe: The Notes and Sketches of an Architect, Naturalist and Traveler in the United States from 1796 to 1820 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1905), view on Zotero.
  28. Robert Bailey, “Bath Berkeley Springs,” Winchester Gazette (June 26, 1813), view on Zotero.
  29. James Kirke Paulding, Letters from the South, 2 vols. (New York: James Eastburn, 1817), view on Zotero.
  30. H. H. Hayden, “Notices of the Geology of the Country near Bedford Springs in Pennsylvania, and the Bath or Berkeley spring in Virginia, with remarks upon those waters,” The American Journal of Science and Arts 19, no. 1 (January 1831), view on Zotero.
  31. Samuel Kercheval, The History of the Valley of Virginia (Winchester, VA: Samuel H. Davis, 1833), view on Zotero.
  32. Betty-Bright Low and Jacqueline Hinsley, Sophie du Pont, A Young Lady in America: Sketches, Diaries, & Letters, 1823–1833 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987), view on Zotero.
  33. John J. Moorman, The Virginia Springs: Comprising an Account of All the Principal Mineral Springs of Virginia, with Remarks on the Nature and Medical Applicability of Each, 2nd ed. (Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1854), view on Zotero.
  34. R. J. “Rambling Sketches: Berkeley Springs: Historical and Social,” The Southern Literary Messenger (December 1854), view on Zotero.

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