Originally opened as a health resort, the Sweet Springs Resort was later known as a sanatorium, hospital, and towards the end of its active life, a nursing home and drug treatment center. “Return to Old Sweet,” a documentary regarding Sweet Springs, was filmed at the resort, as well as in libraries and museums throughout the region.4

History

Although Sweet Springs opened as a health resort in 1833,5 the area was scouted by William and Andrew Lewis, both of whom served in the Revolutionary War, in 1754.7 James Moss was presumed to have built a cabin at Sweet Springs six years after but had no title to the land and had to vacate in 1774 when King George III gave land patents to the Lewis family. William Lewis 1 4 built a two-story cabin a mile from the springs in present-day Virginia but moved westward to Sweet Springs in 1793. 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.4 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. The circuit court operated out of Sweet Springs from 1795 to 1817, and when court was not in session, the rooms were reused as guest cottages.7

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 brick 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 and were developed by General John Echols, Senator Allen Taylor Caperton and Oliver Bierne in 1852.7 The cottages were planned to be built in a semi-circular plan but only half were ever completed.

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 It went into receivership in 1930.7 The resort, which by then was down to 685 acres, was sold from R.N. Taylor 7 to the state as a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1941 1 4 for $150,000.7 Extensive renovations costing nearly $150,000 was undertaken by the state shortly after. In 1945, it became the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home for the elderly, named after a resident of a nearby village who was the deliver of the “message to Garcia” during the Spanish-American War.7 The entire facility closed in 1993.4

Sweet Sommer

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.

Restoration

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.

Digest

  • Name: Sweet Springs Resort, Andrew Rowan Memorial Home
  • Location: Sweet Springs, West Virginia
  • Years of Significance: 1833, 1941, 1945
  • Status: Abandoned

Further Reading

  1. Old Sweet Springs: Official web-site.

Sources

  1. 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.
  2. “State leases Monroe property to resort developer.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 12 Oct. 2007. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
  3. “Ann Royall/Sweet Springs.” West Virginia Archives & History. 2007. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
  4. Clauson-Wicker, Su. “Sweet Dreams: Longtime mineral-springs spa resort is being rejuvenated.” Free Lance-Star 8 March 2008. 15 Dec. 2008 Article.
  5. “The History of “Old Sweet.” Old Sweet Springs. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.
  6. “Property Lease Opens Door for Redevelopment of Historic Resort.” West Virginia Department of Agriculture 11 Oct. 2007. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.
  7. United States. Dept. of the Interior. Old Sweet Springs. Comp. Clifford M. Lewis, S.J. Washington: National Park Service, n.d. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. Article.

Cottages

Bath House

Lewis Cottage

The oldest building on the campus.

Residence 1

Residence 2

Residence 3

Elbow Row cottage of logs

Other