The draw of life-giving water is evident at this historical and natural treasure
By Michael M. Barrick
SWEET SPRINGS, W.Va. — The Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, the nonprofit overseeing the historic centuries-old destination visited by Native Americans, America’s first presidents, and thousands upon thousands of others, is beginning its fifth year of restoration of the location’s grounds and many buildings — which includes a stone jail considered to be the first such structure west of the Alleghenies.
Among the top priorities for the Foundation in 2020 is securing funding to stabilize and repair the brickwork around the Warm Water Spa. It is is far more than a construction project though; rather, it is a critical restoration — again providing access for visitors to the water which has been the valley’s primary draw from the beginning.
The life-giving Mineral Water and Baths, as well as the stunning natural beauty in which they are situated, attracted Native Americans and later the first European settlers venturing into the western Alleghenies from southern Virginia.
The first European to settle it was James Moss, in about 1760. William Lewis bought it in 1792 and built an inn where he entertained presidents and others. The largest building on the grounds is a hotel designed by Thomas Jefferson. It was completed in 1833, seven years after his death.
The Civil War essentially forever transformed the resort, and it never returned to its former stature. The state of West Virginia owned it for decades in the 1900s and used it for multiple purposes. It also made updates not in keeping with the historical architecture. The state abandoned it in the 1990s.
In November 2015, Ashby Berkley rescued Sweet Springs Resort Park from the wrecking ball, buying it at auction for $560,000. With the help of a determined group of volunteers who have captured his vision — and with grants and private support — the property is springing back to life. Indeed, while Berkley is constantly applying for grants, he is also seeking additional private donors and equity investors.
The Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, Inc. is merging economics, history, travel, natural preservation, sustainable development and promotion of the fine arts in a venture that is within a few-hours drive for millions of Americans. The presence of the Greenbrier Valley Airport and Amtrak service in nearby White Sulphur Springs makes Sweet Springs available to any world traveler.
First Priority: Protecting the Water
“Confronted with the divinity of water, the human mind has articulated it’s response and awe in various rituals, rites, and stories.” — John O’Donohue in Four Elements
Divine may be synonymous with sacred; or, perhaps it is more akin to an exceptional, blissful experience. It might even be both!
Whatever the outlook, there is no question that the pristine water of Sweet Springs and Baths — both their mystical nature and practical uses — has drawn and captivated people for centuries to Sweet Springs.
Indeed, it is the presence of the Springs and Baths that cause the Sweet Springs Resort to be so vital to American history that is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Supporting it as a volunteer, donor or investor provides a rare opportunity to merge history, culture, the environment and economics in a single location.
The Mystical Source
The Springs are unendingly reliable. Their sources are mysterious. Contemplating such mystery and majesty is akin to pondering life’s mysteries while staring into a fire. Though essentially the opposite element of fire, water’s mystery is the same of every element. It speaks of our origins, and speaks of ages past and our responsibility to future generations.
People have visited the healing and pure springs for thousands of years. Their life-giving purpose, it’s healing properties and its sacred nature and symbolism not only are a marvel of nature, they are an invitation for visitors to slow down and appreciate the natural elements while marveling at the surrounding historical structures which also populate the property.
The Bath House, then, given the purpose and properties of the water, is an essential next step in restoration of the entire resort.
Sweet Springs Resort Park is adjacent to the Jefferson National Forest and George Washington National Forest. Sweet Springs sits in a serene and stunning valley in the eastern tip of Monroe County, W.Va. just over Peters Mountain from Paint Bank, Va.
Though located in a rural county with no stoplight, it is a short — and breathtaking — drive from I-64. It is less than a four-hour drive from 60 percent of the population of the United States. There is an airport in nearby Lewisburg and Amtrak service out of White Sulphur Springs is less than 30 minutes away. The area is already a destination for visitors from D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and beyond — indeed from the around the world.
Currently, the Resort holds multiple events throughout the year, and tourists driving by on bicycles, motorcycles and cars with out-of-state tags is a common sight. It isn’t unusual for the unexpected appearance of the stunning majestic hotel and colonial era buildings to draw passers-by onto the property.
In time, Berkley envisions a hotel and conference center in the hotel, perhaps a business center, dining opportunities, and other amenities.
Indeed, that is the reason that stabilizing and repairing the brickwork around the Warm Water Spa is essential. People were willing to make the journey across the mountains in the 18th and 19th centuries to benefit from its life-giving spring water and natural beauty. They will again. It provides times of relaxation and restoration. It provides a setting for relationship building and simply visiting or catching up with old friends taking priority over our tech-driven days.
The Sweet Springs Resort Park is a national treasure. Hence, I enthusiastically support efforts to fund its restoration.
As part of my vocation, I have helped organize numerous gatherings regarding preserving Appalachia. I report upon environmental, historical and cultural preservation efforts in Appalachia. I have established and worked in nonprofits as an executive director and board chairman. For nearly a decade, I reported upon hundreds of the nation’s largest religious nonprofits.
As a subject matter expert on nonprofits, I can attest without hesitation that, by every measure, the leadership and volunteers of the Sweet Springs Resort Park are outstanding preservationists and are good stewards of every dollar entrusted to them. I know this because I spent much of the summer of 2019 working alongside them and had an opportunity to observe and even participate in day-to-day operations. I spent countless hours with Ashby Berkley. I have known him for more than 20 years. His integrity and passion for preservation have established him as a recognized leader in preserving historical property in Southern West Virginia and beyond.
The Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) corporation. It is on Rt. 311 just north of the intersection with Rt. 3 in Monroe County, W.Va. The mailing address is 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Gap Mills, WV, 24941. The phone is 304-536-4743. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. On the web: https://www.sweetspringsresortpark.org/. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SweetSpringsResortPark/
© Michael M. Barrick, 2020. This article may be reprinted without prior permission, so long as it is printed in its entirety, attribution is acknowledged, and a notification is sent within 24 hours of publication to email@example.com. It may be shared on social media or via link without permission.