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The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park

Julie Register experienced this springs spa in West Virginia in October 2011 on her Driving Tour of the Historic Springs of the Virginias

Historic Marker in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
Historic Marker in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

The Shops

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.

Quaint Shops line the North End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
Quaint Shops line the North End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

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.

From the Original Lord Fairfax Springs - The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
Looking south across the Original Lord Fairfax Springs - The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

George Washington's Bathtub circa 1748 in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
George Washington's Bathtub circa 1748 in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

Looking across George Washington's Bathtub and the Original Lord Fairfax Springs - The public drinking spring, the Roman Baths and the Berkeley Springs Museum in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
Looking north across George Washington's Bathtub and the Original Lord Fairfax Springs - The public drinking spring, the Roman Baths and the Berkeley Springs Museum in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

The Museum

The Berkeley Springs Museum entrance in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
The Berkeley Springs Museum entrance in Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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 is possibly the oldest spa in the United States. Settlers who came in 1730 learned the uses and value of the springs from the Indians and began spreading the word of its benefits throughout the settlements of the east.
  • Perhaps the most notable and influential advocate of the curative powers of the springs was George Washington, who, at 16, visited them as a member of a survey party. As the party, which was surveying the western limits of Thomas Lord Fairfax's lands, camped there for the night, young Washington noted in his diary, "March 18th, 1748, We this day called to see Ye Fam'd Warm Springs."
  • At the urging of the Colony of Virginia and in the public interest, Lord Fairfax conveyed his land holdings at the springs and fifty adjacent acres to the Colony of Virginia in 1776. Shortly thereafter, the land was offered for public sale (much like many resorts offer homes and condos on their land today!). George Washington, three signers of the Declaration of Independence, four signers of the Constitution, seven members of the Continental Congress, and five Revolutionary generals were among the prominent colonists who made initial purchases there. Hence, the springs' reputation as a health resort became firmly established.

Bath town layout in 1776
Bath town layout in 1776

  • Berkeley Springs has gone by many names: It was originally called Warm Springs but noted as Medicine Springs in 1747 on a map drawn by Thomas Jefferson's father. In 1776, it was incorporated as The Town of Bath (after the English spa). In 1802, Bath received the postal name of Berkeley Springs. Bath (the official name) / Berkeley Springs (postal and map name) was named a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 2006, Berkeley Springs was named a West Virginia certified Historic Preservation Community.
  • There is an excellent timeline of the fluctuations of the use of the springs over the years by Jeanne Mozier at http://www.museumoftheberkeleysprings.com/timeline.html.

Berkeley Springs Water

Temperature: 74.3 °F

Mineral Content:

Mineral Content Grains/US Gallon
Sodium Chloride 0.142
Sodium Sulphate 0.598
Sodium Nitrate 0.026
Potassium Sulphate 0.116
Calcium Sulphate 0.572
Ferrous Carbonate 0.005
Magnesium Carbonate 1.110
Strontium Carbonate trace
Alumina 0.045
Silica 0.496
Ammonium Chloride absent
Albuminoid Nitrogen 0.0012
Organic Matter 0.275
Total 10.1102
Gases Cubic Inches/Gallon
Free Carbonic Acid 2.2
Carbonic Acid in Bicarbonates 7.14
Dissolved Oxygen 0.41
Note: In the Materia Medica of homeopathic medicine, Magnesium Carbonate is used to address the following maladies: gastrointestinal congestion, skin disorders and sore, tired body. These same maladies were cited by numerous 19th century physicians as being helped by the Berkeley Springs waters. Today, most bathers use the waters for stress relief and muscle strain.

 

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.

One of 9 Roman Baths in the lower level of the Building on the North End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
One of 9 Roman Baths in the lower level of the Building on the North End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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 Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
The Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

One of two Locker Rooms in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
One of two Locker Rooms in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

Whirlpool in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
One of three Whirlpool Tubs in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

Whirlpool in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
One of two Roman Baths in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

One of seven Massage Treatment Rooms in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia
One of seven Massage Treatment Rooms in the Women's Side of The Bathhouse on the South End of Berkeley Springs State Park in West Virginia

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.

According to Mike Didawick, the park’s office manager, the spa can accommodate six women and three men every half hour - 90 appointments a day. While I didn't notice the other women while I was in the spa, there is the possibility of noise issues because of the use of curtains instead of doors. However, I think the spa offers a great value and great service - a great combination.

Services available at the time of my visit at The Bathhouse include:

  • Roman Bath (if you schedule this alone, it will be in the Roman Baths under the museum)
  • Whirlpool Bath
  • Swedish Massage (30 or 60 minutes)
  • Sauna
  • Shower

These services are offered in packages. Here are a few:

  • 30-min Massage, Bath, Shower
  • 60-min Massage, Bath, Shower
  • Sauna, Bath, Shower
  • Sauna and Shower

Prices are lower Mondays-Thursdays (except holidays). Discounts are offered for Seniors.

Historical References

The following two books offer some information about the history of these springs on PDF. You can read by clicking on the title:

More Information

Contact
The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park
Address:#2 S. Washington St.
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
Phone: (304) 258-2711
Toll Free: 1-800-CALL WVA
Email:
Web Site: http://www.berkeleyspringssp.com/spa.html

Related Resources
DiscoverSpas.com Listing for The Bathhouse at Berkeley Springs State Park
Discover More Spas in West Virginia

A Driving Tour of Historic Springs in West Virginia and Virginia
West Virginia State Parks

FYI
How are the baths kept clean? The baths are drained and cleaned after each use. Fresh water is provided for every guest. Soaps and oils are not permitted in the tubs.
Do I wear a bathing suit? The baths are private; the men's and women's bath areas are separate, so bathing suits are not required. You may wear a bathing suit while bathing or showering if it makes you feel more comfortable. However, suits are not recommended during a massage (all sensitive areas are fully draped). The Bath Attendant provides towels and sheets. Shower shoes are permitted but not provided.
Valuables - While the Park provides lockers for street clothes and personal effects, it is not advisable to wear valuable jewelry or watches or to carry large amounts of cash when visiting the Baths.
Medical Concerns
- Guests with medical conditions that could be exacerbated by water temperature, minerals or other treatments should contact their physician.
- People with high blood pressure or heart conditions should not use the baths without consulting their physicians prior to scheduling an appointment.
- Expectant mothers should consult with their physicians before taking the baths. It is advised, if you are pregnant, water temperature should be no higher than 98°F. Please tell the attendant if you are pregnant, so the water temperature can be lowered for you.
Children ages six to twelve may share the bath with their same-sex parent. Children under age six are not permitted in the bath areas of the main Bathhouse.

Do I tip? If you wish to tip the massager and / or the attendant for a job well done, you ma certainly do so at your own discretion.

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.

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