Sweet Springs Resort
Although Sweet Springs opened as a health resort in 1833, its origins date back to 1764 when Sweet Springs was discovered.(5) The first development came in 1790 when William Lewis constructed several log cabins to promote the area’s healthy attributes east of Peters Mountain.(1)(4) Eager to see the region prosper, Lewis offered to provide a home for the court of the circuit for Botetourt, Greenbrier, Kanawha and Montgomery counties. He constructed a courthouse and jail, and used both as guest quarters in the off-season. The stone jail still remains, and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, jail building west of the Alleghenies.(4)
Lewis turned over the property to his son, John B. Lewis, in 1805.(4) The elongated, 110,000-square-foot hotel, reportedly designed by Thomas Jefferson, was not constructed until 1839.(3) Research indicates that the hotel may have been designed by William B. Phillips, who worked with Jefferson at the University of Virginia campus.(4)(5)
The popularity of the resort reflected the vacationing aspect of city-dwellers from Washington D.C. and other nearby cities, who would make the trip to the resort via train and buggy during the late 18th and 19th century. Six United States presidents, including George Washington, as well as Robert E. Lee, French General Lafayette and Queen Victoria stayed at Sweet Springs.(4)(5)
Over the years, five guest cottages were constructed, along with a ballroom, a brick bathhouse and several slave cottages.(1) The guest cottages became known as the “Five Sisters.”(4)
The resort was sold, however, in 1852 after Lewis incurred large personal debt.(4) The new owners, the Beirne and Caperton families of Union, West Virginia, managed the resort until 1860.
Sweet Springs did not operate during the Civil War, and it struggled to regain in its popularity afterward. It closed for several years beginning in 1928, and the stock market crash of 1929 caused further financial troubles.(4)(5) The resort, which by then was down to 685 acres, was sold to the state as a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1941.(1)(4) In 1945, it became the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home for the elderly. The entire facility closed in 1993.(4)
In 2005, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History designated Sweet Springs one of West Virginia’s most valuable and endangered historic resources.(4) In January 2008, the springs were ranked among the top 10 at the International Water Tasting Festival.(4) It is the only U.S. water to have won international taste contests four times. The water has been called one of the “best waters” in the world, noted for its “fresh taste, smoothed by its limestone origins.”
The spring water bubbles out of the earth naturally carbonated at 75-degrees Fahrenheit. In the past, doctors claimed that it cured everything from arthritis to depression.(4)
Already, the Sweet Springs Management Company began bottling and selling spring water in West Virginia under the Sweet Sommer label.(4)(6) Mineral water from Peters Mountain, very rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, has been marketed as a health drink, targeted for those with osteoporosis.
Warren D. Smith, was the owner of Fredericksburg’s Chrismarr Realty and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, stumbled upon the Sweet Springs site in 2002, but the private owner of the deteriorating resort refused to sell for two additional years.(4) The price that Smith paid was “considerably less” than the $10 million appraised value.
On October 11, 2007, the state of West Virginia leased 625 acres adjacent to the Sweet Springs property for 80-years to Smith.(2)(4)
He announced preliminary plans that called for the construction of a golf course on an abandoned 19th century course, an amphitheater, skiing facilities, stables, a shooting range, gardens and orchards, a vineyard and other attractions on the leased property, with a long-range plan to restore the existing resort buildings as a “showcase for historic preservation and economic development.”(2) In addition, Smith planned to serve gusts mint juleps made using the original Sweet Springs recipe.
In keeping with the rural nature of the region, Smith assured that he had no plans for residential development near the resort.(4) Two of the “Five Sisters” are rented out to overnight guests.(4)
“It was rundown, but Sweet Springs is still incredibly wonderful. So little has changed over the centuries–you have the sense of being submerged in history here. You stroll through rooms where presidents and royalty stayed. The buildings they frequented are still standing; the doors they opened and the windows they looked through are still here.”
-Warren D. Smith (4)
The first major restoration project included the 1858 bathhouse, which had partially collapsed. The original bricks were saved and reused in its reconstruction.(4) Other structural improvements were also completed on a wood-frame men’s house and the brick cottages.
In the principal structure, damaged windowpanes were replaced with hand-blown replicas, and the railings were replaced with detailed, hand-turned replacements. Plaster walls were covered with rich, local wood paneling.(4)
Sweet Springs was expected to reopen in mid-2009,(4) although no work has taken place for several years.
- Old Sweet Springs: Official web-site.
- Steelhammer, Rick. “W.VA’s Heritage in Jeopardy: Most endangered historic places list created to secure dozens of sites.” Sunday Gazette-Mail (Charleston) 11 Dec. 2005: 1A.
- “State leases Monroe property to resort developer.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 12 Oct. 2007. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
- “Ann Royall/Sweet Springs.” West Virginia Archives & History. 2007. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
- Clauson-Wicker, Su. “Sweet Dreams: Longtime mineral-springs spa resort is being rejuvenated.” Free Lance-Star 8 March 2008. 15 Dec. 2008 Article.
- “The History of “Old Sweet.” Old Sweet Springs. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.
- “Property Lease Opens Door for Redevelopment of Historic Resort.” West Virginia Department of Agriculture 11 Oct. 2007. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.