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.
Alternate Names: Warm Springs; Medicinal Springs; Frederick Springs; Bath
Site Dates: precolonial–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–present)
Associated People: James Rumsey (builder), Charles Varlé (designer)
Location: Morgan County, WV
Condition: extant; altered
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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.  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.
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). 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 – map detail]. By the mid-1740s, white settlers had reportedly begun to erect makeshift accommodations in the area.  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. 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.”  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).  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.”  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).  The August 1777 sale attracted several prominent individuals from Maryland and Virginia, including Washington, to purchase lots in Bath (view text). 
- 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)
- “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)
- “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)
- “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)
- “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)
- “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)
- “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. . . .
- 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) 
- “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)
- “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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Harding 1976, 3, view on Zotero.
- Bridenbaugh 1946, 161, view on Zotero.
- 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.
- 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.
- Harding 1976, 5–6, view on Zotero.
- Taylor 2009, 55, view on Zotero; and Mozier and Harmison 2011, 7, view on Zotero.
- 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.
- Moncure Daniel Conway, Barons of the Potomack and the Rappahannock (New York: The Grolier Club, 1892), view on Zotero.
- Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0001-0002-0008.
- 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.
- Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0039.
- Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-08-02-0164.
- Philip Vickers Fithian, Philip Vickers Fithian: Journal, 1775–1776. Written on the Virginia-Pennsylvania Frontier and in the Army Around New York, edited by Robert Greenhalgh Albion and Leonidas Dodson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1934), view on Zotero.
- Gardiner and Gardiner 1938, view on Zotero.
- Washington Papers, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-12-02-0030.