Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park
It was a cool, rainy morning. Lea and I had some time before our spa appointments at The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park, so we visited some of the shops across from the north side of the park on Fairfax Street.
We stopped at Sage Moon Herb Shop, Himalayan Trade and Portals, which used to be the Washington Homeopathy Works store and museum, the oldest full-line homeopathic manufacturer in the United States (est. 1873). While Portals carries some of Washington Homeopathy Works remedies and has a display from the museum, we were told the company had to move to a modern facility in a nearby industrial park in order to meet FDA regulations and now only operates a mail order business. What a loss! My husband and I visited there in 1995, and I remember enjoying the shop and chatting with the very knowledgeable owner. We stopped for coffee at the Fairfax Coffee House before walking through the park.
Berkeley Springs State Park is located in the center of the Town of Berkeley Springs. It is the smallest park in the West Virginia State Park system. It is also the oldest state-operated park in continuous operation in the United States.
The park also has a public swimming pool in the center of the park (closed for the season during our visit) as well as a bandstand and a large lawn along Washington Street.
We toured the Berkeley Springs Museum, which is located on the second floor of the building on the north end of the park. There was, of course a lot of great information about the history of the town in the museum. Here are some of the facts I found most interesting:
Berkeley Springs Water
Temperature: 74.3 °F
The Old Roman Baths
The Roman Baths are located are located in the ground floor of the same building that houses the museum. This building was built in 1815 as a Gentlemen's Bathhouse and has nine Roman Baths. In the 20th century, it changed to public baths that are still in use today. This building replaced a 1784 building that had five Roman Baths. The baths are 5'x 9' and 4' deep tiled pools in private rooms filled by naturally warm mineral water coming from the main springs behind the building that has been heated to 102°F. These baths have been operated since the 1920s by the State of West Virginia and were refurbished in 1995.
The Bathhouse and Our Spa Experience
The Bathhouse, located on the south end of the park, first opened in 1929. Thanks to a year-long, $2 million renovation completed in November 2010, the facility is in great shape. While some long time visitors may miss the steam rooms and old Victorian claw foot bathtubs, the new facilities are easier to maintain, are ADA compliant and offer a great spa experience. The women's side now offers two locker/changing rooms, two Roman baths, three whirlpool baths, three showers, a sauna and seven massage rooms. The men's side offers a locker/changing room, two Roman baths, two whirlpool baths, showers, a sauna and four massage rooms.
We walked into entrance in the center of the building. There were four women sitting in the waiting area in front of the reception desk. We checked in, filled out the requisite paperwork and checked out the retail shop. Shortly, we were all whisked away by friendly but efficient attendants into the women's side of The Bathhouse. The first thing we noticed was how clean it smelled (a very good thing!).
The four women ahead of us were led to a locker room on the right and we were taken into a locker room on the left.
Our attendant gave us each a sheet and towels. She instructed us to remove our clothes and wrap the sheet around us. (I don't remember ever being at a spa where they used a sheet like this before. I have to say I like the idea. The sheet is roomy, secure and practical.) She advised us to remove jewelry, since the mineral in the water can tarnish it. When we were done, we were to bring our towels out of the area with us where she would be waiting for us. She closed the curtain (most areas in the spa are divided by curtains instead of doors), we stowed our belongings in the locker, wrapped in sheets, grabbed our locker keys and towels and met her on the other side of the curtain. The Bathhouse does not provide sandals. Fortunately, we were wearing flip flops.
I was originally supposed to have a whirlpool bath, but decided to share a Roman Bath with Lea.
The attendant showed us a whirlpool bath on our way to the Roman Bath. These tubs hold 150 gallons of mineral water heated to a maximum temperature of 102°F. Footrests and pillows are available.
We were then led into a small tiled room with a Roman Bath filled with 750 gallons of mineral water. We left our sheets, towels and keys on the hooks and walked down the steps into the warm water. The water is heated to a maximum temperature of 102°F. It felt hot but not uncomfortable. There was a water cooler and cups for us to use. The tub is large enough to stretch out and float in, but we just sat, chatted and relaxed. Bath time is 15 minutes if you are having a massage or 20 minutes without a massage, which is the same as the whirlpool. I was quite warm at the end of our time and ready to get out. We dried off and wrapped up in our sheets. We stepped out of the room, and our massage therapists were waiting for us.
My therapist, Ann led me to a massage room. For the next 60 minutes, she gave me a light Swedish massage. I was in "the zone" through the whole massage - that place where I am very, very, very relaxed but not asleep. I've heard it takes the first 20 minutes of a massage just to warm up the muscles so the massage can start providing benefits. I think the hot bath first is a perfect way to warm up the muscles for a massage. All 60 of those minutes were immediately beneficial. For the massage oil, Ann used a traditional mixture of pure olive oil and 190 proof ethyl alcohol. Ann gave me the option of taking a shower when the massage was over, but I chose not to. I like leaving the oil on my skin for a while. Ann led me back to the locker room where I met Lea. We changed and headed out to Tari's for lunch.
These services are offered in packages. Here are a few:
Prices are lower Mondays-Thursdays (except holidays). Discounts are offered for Seniors.
The following two books offer some information about the history of these springs on PDF. You can read by clicking on the title:
1831 On Baths and Mineral Waters by Joseph Bell
1835 Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs: The roads leading thereto, and the doings thereat by Peregrine Prolix (page 96 "Bath")
1857 The Virginia Springs; Comprising an Account of All the Principal Mineral Springs of Virginia, with Remarks on the Nature and Medical Applicability of Each by John J. Moorman, M.D., For many years Resident Physician at the White Sulphur Springs
Unfortunately, Perceval Reniers' The Springs of Virginia: Life, Love, and Death at the Waters 1775 -1900 is not available as a PDF but also has information about Berkeley Springs.
Photos copyright 2011, Julie Register
As is common in the travel industry, The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park provided spa treatments for the purpose of reviewing the services. While it has not influenced this review, Julie Register believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
Copyright 1997-2014 Julie Register, All rights