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Sweet Springs in Monroe County, West Virginia

Julie Register found the ruins of this beautiful springs resort in September 2011 on her Driving Tour of the Historic Springs of the Virginias

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

A mile south of Chalybeate Sweet Springs just over the Virginia/West Virginia border on WV S.R. 311 is Sweet Springs. The enormous, stately, brick, 3-story building with a long piazza and four porticoes is a surprising find in its bucolic surroundings. We turned in the drive and, almost immediately, a red pick-up truck pulled in behind us. We got out and introduced ourselves to Ricky, the caretaker. He told us about the current situation of the property (related later on in this article) and gave us permission to wander around the outside of the buildings.

The buildings have been unused for 18 years, and they are all currently in a desperate state of disrepair. Bowing brick walls, rotting wood, peeling paint and warning signs of hazardous materials (asbestos) tell a tale of sad neglect to this still beautiful property.

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV


In the late 1700's and the 1800's, this was a primary destination on the Springs Tour - second in popularity only to White Sulphur Springs.

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, West Virginia
Edward Beyer Lithograph of Sweet Springs (as it was designed - the left side of the horseshoe was never built) in Monroe County, WV

Sweet Springs, along with Berkeley Springs (Bath) and Warm Springs (The Jefferson Pools), is one of the oldest "spas" in America. Sweet Springs was first developed in the 1790's by William Lewis with several log cabins, a courthouse and jail - all used to house those who came to enjoy the benefits of the springs. William's son, John, took over the property in 1805 and built the large brick building in 1839. While the design of the building has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, some sources say that the hotel may have been designed by William B. Phillips, who worked with Jefferson at the University of Virginia. Over the years, five guest cottages were constructed, along with a ballroom, a brick bathhouse (1858) and several slave cottages. The guest cottages became known as the "Five Sisters." Six United States presidents, including Washington, Van Buren, Pierce and Fillmore as well as Queen Victoria, Henry Clay, General Lafayette and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and John Echols were guests at Sweet Springs. Napoleon's brother Jerome met his American wife here.

According to Perceval Reniers' book, The Springs of Virginia: Life, Love, and Death at the Waters 1775 -1900,

In the 1830's, "There was an immutable law that required everybody in the fashion to converge on the Sweet for the last week in August and the first week in September, from whatever direction, whither from the White or the Salt or the Hot."

At other times, when people couldn't get in to White Sulphur Springs or they got tired of the Calwell System (poor food and poor facilities), they went elsewhere. "Of all the refuges, the Sweet was the favorite, not alone because it was nearest the White but because of its charm, its society and, on rare occasions, because of its food...it had not always been thus, what with the vagaries of the lessee system. Much that had recently happened was due to Dr. Lewis's taking the reins himself. This story had been briefly told by an advertisement that he had inserted in the Richmond Papers.

'These Springs so long and so advantageously known, having passed into the hands of the proprietor, are now in complete repair for the reception of visitors. The old buildings have all been refitted in a neat and comfortable manner, and other extensive improvements are being put up.'

"The 'other extensive improvements,' when finished, gave Mr. Buckingham the surprise of his life; a beautiful long brick building with three Greek porticoes spaced along its facade, standing in a grove of what was still backwoods America! ... The building was of red brick, three stories high, the lower story close on the ground and arcaded in the familiar manner of Southern houses. On top of this arcade ran the long piazza, unroofed except for the three high porticoes that crossed it. It looked for all the world as though three typical be-pillared mansions from the lower James had been moved to this upland valley and put together on a common front, with the additional feature of a fine bar behind the basement arcade.

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

"Inside were an enormous dining room, two drawing rooms and thirty-nine bedrooms, so spacious and airy that the managers of the United States and Congress Hotels at Saratoga, where the chambers were no larger than mortuary vaults, should have blushed with shame to hear of them. This affair cost $60,000...

"Everyone sighed over these splendors, over the Greek porticoes and the tasteful Greek cornices and the three black-walnut flights of steps and the $60,000...Burke, the busy builder of the Red Sulphur, handsomely admitted that there was nothing to equal it, even at his own Spring... The Sweet may have been the last of the Springs to fall in with the building boom of the 1830's but it brought up the rear in triumph.

"In 1839 guests were swarming through the new and spacious chambers of this caravansary, lost in admiration but not so completely lost that they failed to note that many finishing touches were yet to be made owing to the sudden drying up of the golden stream. Four years later it was still unfinished and people were wondering when Dr. Lewis would get around to plastering the dining room, where the walls were still of bare, open laths, but by then (1843) they were right in the middle of hard times. Prosperity and plastering were just around the corner.

"This depression," said one of the Sweet Springs guests, "is trifling; the fame of the springs is extending, and at no distant day their celebrity will not be bounded by the Continent." The water at the Sweet had always been stimulating to the imagination as well as to the body. As it turned out, the guests would still be eating in a dining hall of unplastered lathes as late as 1850."

The resort was sold in 1852 after Lewis incurred large personal debt, and the new owners, Caperton, Echols and Bierne of nearby Union, managed the resort until 1860. Sweet Springs was closed during the Civil War, and never regained success as a resort afterwards. It was closed for several years beginning in 1928. In 1941, the resort and 685 acres, was sold to the state as a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1941. In 1945, it became the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home for the elderly. At some point, a large addition was made changing the front from 3 porticoes to 4 porticoes. The entire facility closed in 1993.

In 2005, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History designated Sweet Springs one of West Virginia's most valuable and endangered historic resources. In that same year, Warren D. Smith purchased Sweet Springs' 14 historic buildings on 28 acres for "considerably less than the $10 million appraised value" and procured an 80-year lease for the 625 acres adjacent to the Sweet Springs property from the state of West Virginia. His plans for the property included a PGA-quality golf course on an abandoned 19th century course, an amphitheater, greenhouse, vineyard, shooting range, paintball course, trails, gardens, orchards, equestrian and skiing facilities on the leased property as well as restoration of the existing historic buildings. He planned to pipe the water into multiple therapy spas in the main hotel and its courtyards, and serve guests mint juleps made using the original Sweet Springs recipe. Smith optimistically targeted the resort to re-open in 2009. That was not to be. Some work was done. One of the "Five Sisters" duplexes were improved and rented out to overnight guests. In the large brick building, damaged windowpanes were replaced with hand-blown replicas, and the railings along the piazza and stairs were replaced with detailed, hand-turned replacements. Restoration started on the 1858 bathhouse, which had partially collapsed. The original bricks were saved to be reused in its reconstruction. Sadly, Warren Smith died on November 26, 2010, and all work on the property ceased. According to Ricky, the current caretaker, the property is now in the hands of Mr. Smith's two children, who are not interested in continuing the project. They have a year from their father's death to decide what to do with it. Ricky suggested I might be interested in it. I can easily envision a fabulous destination or resort spa at Sweet Springs. Now if I just had a spare hundred million dollars (for, surely, that's what it would take to make Smith's vision a reality)...Hopefully, someone with deeper pockets than mine will pick up the challenge and enable this lovely property to fulfill its potential.

The Water

Sweet Springs was named for the sweet taste of its waters, which were said to have many healing qualities. The water bubbles out of the earth naturally carbonated at a year-round temperature near 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In the past, people claimed it cured everything from arthritis to depression to sterility. While Smith was alive, he formed the Sweet Springs Management Co. to bottle and sell spring water under the Sweet Sommer label (from Smith's daughter's middle name). The mineral water contains so much calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc that Smith thought it could be marketed as a health drink - a preventive for osteoporosis. I don't know if the spring water business continued after Smith's death. In January 2008, the springs were ranked among the top 10 at the International Water Tasting Festival. It is the only U.S. water to have won international taste contests four times. More descriptions of the water and "Taking the Waters" in the 1800's can be found under Early Guests after the photos.

More Photos

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

\\Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Piazza at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV*

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Lower Level Arcade in Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV*

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Sweet Springs and one of the "Five Sisters" in Monroe County, WV

Cottages in Various Stages of Disrepair at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
One of the "Five Sisters" Cottages in Serious Disrepair at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

Cottages in Various Stages of Disrepair at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Two of the "Five Sisters" in Various Stages of Disrepair at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Decay at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Decay at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV

The Bathhouse at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV
Ruins at Sweet Springs in Monroe County, WV*

Early Guests

  • 1808 In John Caldwel's book, A Tour Through Part of Virginia, in the Summer of 1808 including an account of...the Different Medicinal Springs, Hot and Cold Baths visited by the Author, he notes, "There is a post office kept here, which I presume is unproductive, as company only resort to the springs from June to August, or beginning of September. There are upwards of eighty thousand miles of post roads, and more than two thousand post offices in the United States, and this must be one of the many that does not yield revenue. The waters of these springs have never yet been correctly analysed. Some people assert, while others deny their efficacy in pulmonary complaints; they act both as a purgative and a diuretic, and are peculiarly useful in relieving the patient from the bad effects of a course of mercury. There are accommodations here for two hundred persons; families are provided with cabins of two, three, or four rooms with furniture, individuals with log-houses, roomy or crowded, according to the increase of the company, and all that are able meet at the public table to a plentiful breakfast, dinner and supper, where there is little appearance of ill health or want of appetite in the majority. Wine is seldom introduced; music and dancing frequently crown the evening, and cards are resorted to by many more to pass time than through a spirit of gaming, although there are professed gamblers at this place, who have set up a Pharo Bank, but must starve for want of trade, unless they meet more encouragement than the present water-drinking folks seem inclined to give them.

    "The charge for boarding is seven dollars per week, and half a dollar per day for each horse; this is extravagantly high for the latter, as hay, oats and corn are remarkably low. This place was formerly in Green briar, but now makes part of Munroe county. It is surrounded by mountainous country, but there are in the vallies very fine tracts of grazing and meadow lands; grain too of every description is plentifully produced, and hemp grows to great perfection. There are large quantities and varieties of game, and you may frequently purchase venison at one cent, beef and mutton at three cents per lb. and chickens at six cents per pair; of fish the supply is small, though they say they sometimes have good cat fish, as large as 100 lbs. weight, from New River. The Rattlesnake mountain is five miles from hence, and many curious persons have visited it, but the danger of the excursion, and the difficulty of ascent prevented me from satisfying my curiosity. It is said this reptile is harmless and inoffensive, unless when attacked, and that it then gives notice of its hostility ere it strikes its poison. This being the anniversary of our independence, one of our company gave us an oration on the occasion, and very justly remarked, "that so long as this day was commemorated, and its return hailed with joy and thankfulness, so long would our republican institutions be supported; so long would the glorious spirit of '76 dwell within us."
  • 1832 In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson notes, "The Sweet springs are in the county of Botetourt, at the eastern foot of the Alleghaney, about 42 miles from the Warm springs. They are still less known. Having been found to relieve cases in which the others had been ineffectually tried, it is probable their composition is different. They are different also in their temperature, being as cold as common water, which is not mentioned, however, as a proof of a distinct impregnation. This is among the first sources of James' river."
  • 1835 In his Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs: The roads leading thereto, and the doings thereat, Peregrine Prolix notes, "You drive into a spacious green undulating area, shaded here and there with trees, and surrounded by motley groups of frame buildings of all shapes and ages, and you see in front of you, rising behind a row of modern cabins, a remarkably beautiful rounded hill, whose tree-clad top seems to lead by a gentle acclivity to a mountain range which bounds the view. In a little valley on your left, is a frame building containing two large and separate baths for the two sexes, and under its piazza is a famous spring, sweet in name, but slightly acidulous in taste, sparkling and spirit-stirring like champagne, and ever copiously flowing like the stream of time:

"Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis sevum."
Flows, and will flow, the ever-fleeting spring-,
'Till the last trump its piercing note shall sing.

"This is what the neighbours call a powerful Spring, meaning that it sends forth a power of water, and it fills two very large plunging baths, which are very agreeable, from the sparkling transparency and high temperature of the element. I think its temperature is about 70 of Fahrenheit; though, being " vix umbra philosophi," I cannot venture a statement on my own authority; neither do I know its gaseous or solid contents, for Professor Rogers, with his tests, retorts, receivers and evaporating dishes, had not yet arrived... The accommodations at the Sweet Springs are good, and in general, quite sufficient for the company, which suffers a diurnal ebb and flow. The road from the Sweet to the Hot Springs is very good, and I travelled it in the stage coach, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. stopping an hour and a half at Plum's (olim Callaghan's) to demolish a good dinner."

  • 1839 In his book, The White Sulphur Papers, or Life at the Springs of Western Virginia by Mark Pencil notes, "Before twelve o'clock, we entered the smiling valley of the Sweet Springs. As we passed to our lodgment, in the direction of the bath house, we heard the merry voices of the bathers, enjoying themselves at their usual hour.

    "We made our first appearance at dinner, where over two hundred persons were struggling for elbow room at two tables only large enough for half that number. We were so fortunate as to be seated near a celebrated caterer, who having a dozen servants in his pay, he was liberal enough to apply all his friends in his vicinity. We had air during dinner, from the many fans suspended above, and which were kept constantly in motion.

    "Whoever comes to the mountains, should make a visit to the Sweet Springs, if but for one day. Much of the scenery in the neighbourhood is of the most beautiful and refreshing kind, and the whole place is redolent with life and animation, particularly at a time when thronging with company.

    "You enter on your arrival into a large green area, having on each side rows of white rustic-looking cottages, and directly before you at the further end is a green hill of a most 'peculiar diadem.' Many little cabins of brick and frame work are scattered in various parts of the grounds.

    "The spring is under the piazza of the bath house, the water rises in a cylindrical reservoir. It is sparkling and exhilarating, and has a piquant acidulous taste, something like soda water which has been left standing. The temperature of the water is 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and contains sulphate of magnesia, muriate of soda, and sulphate of soda, carbonate of magnesia, carbonate of lime, with traces of iron and silaceous matter, free carbonic acid,
    bi-carbonate of soda, and carbonic acid gas, the excess of the carbonic acid, gives the waters a great briskness. The stream is very copious and supplies the two extensive baths in the adjoining building, which are reserved for the different sexes. The gentleman's bath is in a quadrangular form of five feet in depth, and surrounded by a wall with an opening at the top; the water is continually flowing off. Upon first entering the bath, you receive a slight shock; and in another moment, the most delightful sensations come over you. The water is soft and unctuous to the body, and it stimulates powerfully the action of the skin, being of a tonic nature, improving its functions, and exciting the activity of the absorbent system.

    "The carbonic acid gas is seen bubbling up, in little globules, on the surface of the water. We were recommended not to remain in the bath longer than three minutes at first; but we heard of two persons, the day before, having remained in the other bath over an hour. At some of the baths in Switzerland, which have not a very high temperature, the patients pass six or eight hours a day in the water.

    "Bathing has become a science, and many treatises have been written on the subject. For those who would enlarge and extend such information, the waters of the springs of this region will afford them the best opportunities of judging, both by practical experiments of their efficacy, and from observation of the various effects upon different systems...

    "The Sweet Springs are among the most ancient and celebrated watering places in the United States, and it is only surprising, that until very lately, so few improvements have been made in the buildings. A large and handsome hotel is now erecting, which will be ready for the reception of guests in the summer of 1839, and the accommodations will then be sufficient for four hundred persons. This has been long wanting, for the cottages are mostly old and dilapidated, each containing two small rooms The bar room of the present day, was once the theatre of quite a different display. The county court was formerly held in that room, where Patrick Henry and other great men of Virginia have been heard to thunder their eloquence.

    "There is a continual flow and ebb of company here during the summer, and it is only in the latter part of August, and the first few weeks in September, that the place is much crowded, when persons, with families, after having drank the waters of the other springs, come here to bathe in the waters, which possess so many secret and beneficial qualities. Its influence is visible in the gay spirits and animation of the company. The amusements here are various—a ball room and a piano, where the ladies can amuse themselves; and many pretty walks of an evening over the green hill, which leads to more sequestered retreats through the woods and to groves shaded by the maple trees: rides on horseback and drives to water falls, and fishing streams, in the neighbourhood — and they have the most transparent of moonlights. The forests abound in game, particularly pheasants— and gentlemen can have fine sport in that way.

    "The Sweet Springs are destined, at no distant day, to become a great and favourite place of resort, and its vicinity to the White Sulphur, and the facilities of getting there, give it many advantages.

    "The Sweet Spring water is serviceable in the varieties of dyspepsia, accompanied by spasms, or with pains at irregular intervals. In secondary debility of the digestive canal, from the exhausting heat of summer, or in chronic diarrhea and dysentery without fever. Females of what are termed a nervous habit of body, who have been enfeebled by protracted confinement, or long nursing their children, deprivation of exercise, and of the enjoyment of fresh air, and who have in addition to these causes of dyspepsia, made excessive use of tea and coffee, will find their health and strength restored by drinking these waters, and by using the bath.

    "The usual time for drinking the waters of the Sweet Springs, is early in the morning, before dinner, and at tea time. This latter period is an improper one, it has been thought; except the invalid suffer at the time from spasm of the stomach, or experience a morbid and gnawing sensation of hunger.

    "The Water is also useful in calculus and nephritic complaints. It is efficacious in those deranged states of the digestive functions which are termed abdominal obstruction. In chronic enlargement of the liver, or long standing stomach disorder with acidity, hemorrhoidal affections, and uterine derangement. The water being only tepid, the bath is not recommended for chronic rheumatism or gout.

    "The waters of the Sweet Springs, (save in temperature,) for their cures and in their ingredients, may be likened to those of Vichy, a celebrated watering place in France, on the banks of the Allier, eighty leagues from Paris.
  • 1846 In his book, The Mineral Springs of Western Virginia; with Remarks on Their Use and the Diseases to Which They are Applicable, William Burke, M.D. Proprietor of Red Sulphur Springs provides this information, "The Sweet Springs are situated on the head waters of Dunlap's Creek in the county of Monroe, in a delightful valley, the air of which is pure and dry. These waters (Col. Perkins) were discovered before any of the Mineral Waters in this part of Virginia were known, in 1764. In 1773, they began to be noticed as a watering-place, and in 1774 were analysed by Bishop Madison, the President of William and Mary College, but which analysis I have not seen. The water is at 73° Fahrenheit; the baths for both male and female visitors are under the same roof, divided by a brick wall in the centre, and each about twenty feet square, and the water four and a half to five feet deep. In plunging into these waters a slight shudder, which in my case, and indeed generally, was succeeded by a delightful glow. One is very much induced to linger in the bath, but five to ten minutes, in most cases, are found better than longer.

    "The residence of the visitors has hitherto been in the cabins or log-houses which were formerly the dwellings of all who visited any of the Virginia Springs. Dr. Lewis has just now finished a house which for architectural beauty and accommodations is superior to any house built for the same use in the United States that I have seen. It is built of brick, has two stories besides a basement, which is appropriated to kitchen, bake and store rooms, with offices for various purposes; the piazza 17 feet wide, the whole length of the building, stands on brick arches, and is reached by three sets of steps of black walnut, the width of each of the porticos by which the front of the building is ornamented; the principal story has a dining-room 160 feet long, at one end of which is a ladies' drawing room, and at the other end a dancing-room; they are each the whole width of the building, which is 48 feet, and 40 deep.

    "In the second story, there are 36 bed rooms, with an entry between them; they are about 14 feet square. The building has quite an imposing appearance. The other improvements consist of a number of brick and framed cottages, sufficient to accommodate 350 persons. Dr. Lewis has been very fortunate in the selection of his managers. Last season the management was in the hands of our old and worthy friend Major Vass, whose kind and conciliatory disposition, added to a minute knowledge of all that appertains to his business, has always rendered him popular. The fare at the Sweet Springs during the visiting season is uniformly good, and the servants are kept under good management. Dr. Lewis is extensively engaged in farming; and having a fertile estate attached to the Springs, he is enabled to raise plentiful supplies of the great staples of domestic consumption.

    "The best example of the acidulous class of water (Bell) is the Sweet Springs in Monroe County, Virginia. They are 29 miles from Fincastle, 40 from the Red Sulphur, 22 from the Salt Sulphur, 20 from the White Sulphur, and 43 from Bath Court-House.

    "The Sweet Springs rise on the north side of a large mountain called by the same name. The south side is covered with stones of an ochrous appearance. In many places iron may be found, but on the north the mountain is fertile and covered with a rich mould, at least, near the Springs.

    "The temperature of the Sweet Springs is 73° Fahrenheit, the same as that which in England by a strange blunder is called Bristol Hot Well. There is a considerable resemblance between the two in other respects, as well in the abundant evolutions of carbonic acid, as in the earthy and saline matters held in solution. In the Virginia Spring, however, iron has been detected, whereas the British Hot Well has none in its composition.

    "Few mineral waters have acquired such fashionable and well merited celebrity as the Sweet Springs. The name is calculated to convey erroneous impressions of their taste, which is like a solution of a small quantity of a calcareous or magnesian carbonate. The excess of the carbonic acid, however, gives the waters a briskness productive of a very different effect on the palate from what an imperfect mixture of the earths would produce. The first effects of this water, due to its temperature and gaseous contents, are a feeling of warmth to the stomach, with the sensation of fullness of the head and some giddiness. Taken at stated intervals, in moderate quantity, it will produce a moisture on the skin and increase the flow of urine. If the stomach be in a good state, it gives additional appetite, and imparts fresh vigor to the system. Its operation on the bowels varies at first; but after a protracted use it will generally be found to induce a costive habit.

    "The waters of the Sweet Springs are highly stimulant, and are therefore inadmissible in most cases of inflammatory disease or in turberculous pre-disposition, and other affections of the lungs and bronchi. They quicken the circulation, impart tonicity and vigor to the system, excite the animal passions, cheer the spirits, and inspire the mind with pleasurable sensations. Aged persons, especially, who are free from organic disease, will find youth and vigor and elasticity at the bottom of this noble fountain. A man who could have an opportunity of daily plunging into the Sweet Springs Bath might live to the fabled age of the crow. We cannot conceive anything more refreshing and exhilarating than this bath, when it is appropriate to the case; but the system must be free from inflammatory action, and rather tending to atony than to the opposite condition. We would not advise a person of sanguine temperament, whether male or female, to use this bath; nor would we permit females who may by any probability be in a delicate condition, or who are liable to severe periodical hemorrhages, to use the water internally or by bathing. There are conditions of the uterine functions in which they may be used with marked advantage, but such cases require medical advice of the highest character, and that too on the spot, where contingencies may be met by suitable treatment. In certain cases of dyspepsia, and in some nephritic affections, this water is very valuable; in fine, it may be said to be a good servant, but a bad master.

    "There is one practice at this Spring so pernicious, that it cannot be too severely reprobated; we allude to deep potations of mint julap and other spirituous mixtures, after coming from the bath. Incalculable injury may be done by this abuse, and we have little doubt that many of the cases said to have been injured by the water and bath, may fairly be traced to mint julaps.

    "We have, ourselves, good reason to speak highly of this water. In 1823, we spent several weeks enjoying the luxury of bathing here with the most decided benefit to our system, enfeebled by application to business and other causes. In 1829, however, after hemorrhages and other symptoms of pulmonary disease had made their appearance, we were excited by it to a fearful degree, and had to abandon its use.

    "These Springs and the estate attached to them have passed out of the possession of the late proprietor, Dr. B. Lewis, and are now under the control of the Chancellor, who orders them to be annually rented out by the sheriff to the highest bidder. For the last three years, they have been managed by annual renters—a condition of things highly injurious, in every point of view, to this lovely retreat, which, in natural scenery, surpasses even the White Sulphur. Col. Perkins, whose taste cannot be questioned, expresses admiration of the Great Building, at this place. The design is probably good, and the appearance is imposing; but its location was most unfortunate as it eternally mars the most enchanting valley in the Virginia mountains. In an expenditure of some sixty thousand dollars, how much better it would have been to employ an architect acquainted with landscape, even if it had cost something more. The house remains in an unfinished state, and like all houses so left, without an owner, it is already evidencing dilapidation; and, should the decision of the questions now in litigation be delayed many years, its decay will be rapidly progressive. That property, once the most highly valued in the mountains, has suffered great depreciation from those causes, and whenever brought into market, will be offered under great disadvantages.

    "We have already given our opinion of the magnificent Baths at this place, which, under all disadvantages, attracted a large company last summer. The house was kept, and very well, too, as we understood, by Mr. Henry Massey."
  • 1870 in his book, The Virginia Tourist. Sketches of the Springs and Mountains of Virginia; Containing ...Accounts of its Mineral Springs and a Medical Guide to the Use of the Waters, Edward A. Pollard notes, "But we must turn aside from sight-seeing of this sort to explore in another interest the neighboring country. The common routine of the visitors of the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs is to supplement a season there with one at the Old Sweet. There are said to be good medicinal reasons for the transfer; and the invalid after undergoing the alterative effects of sulphur water is frequently advised by his physician to complete his treatment by using the more tonic and nervine waters that are placed within his reach, they being adapted to strengthen the animal fibre and to give vigor and security to his convalescence. On the other hand, the change of scene and of company are obvious inducements to those who seek pleasure rather than health at the watering-places; and thus it is usual to find all the springs of Virginia which lie conveniently close to each other profiting from an interchange of visitors, and instead of indulging in rivalry, manifesting the best relations of good and kindly neighborhood.

    "The road to the Old Sweet is an interesting one. There is a station called "Crows," midway between it and the Greenbrier White Sulphur, and where it is not uncommon for parties from the two watering-places to appoint a rendezvous for pic-nics and other amusements, returning in the evening to their respective abodes. A few miles farther on is the Red Sweet Springs, a pretty object by the roadside, but rather neglected since the superior attractions, or at least the larger accommodations, of the Old Sweet await the traveler at the farther distance of only one mile.

    "The term "old" is not inviting. As one of the travelers, jolted on the top of the lumbering stage-coach and grumbling under a dilapidated umbrella, remarked by the way, "The word brought visions of a rickety country tavern- looking place, badly-patched and worse-kept invalid resort, where an old fellow with a patch over his eye nodded 'good-morning' to a rheumatic spinster, and a scrofulous infant disported with a mangy kitten." It afforded, indeed, an agreeable surprise to find at our journey's end an array of buildings the most tasteful and neat that we had yet found in the mountains of Virginia— a crescent shape of brick cottages stretching away for two or three hundred yards, with pleasant avenues in the rear (Broadway and Elbow Row), and the pleasing effect surmounted by a hotel, which, though much inferior in dimensions to the caravansary at the White Sulphur, proved to be the best appointed and most comfortable in which we had rested since we had left the Virginia House at Staunton. The buildings are all of brick; and the distinguished boast of the proprietor is that he has introduced what has heretofore been a novelty in the hotel accommodations of Virginia watering-places—the use of gas, which is manufactured on the premises and is supplied in every room. In fact, the Old Sweet has certain claims to being an aristocratic spring; the company we saw there, not more than two hundred and fifty persons, about one-third of the capacity of the accommodations, were decidedly distinguished; and our impressions of the "style" of the place were early confirmed when on our arrival we were met in the dining-hall by an elegant colored gentleman in a full-dress suit, not omitting the white vest, who persuaded us that we would be doing him a favor to eat, or, as he might have expressed it, to condescend to the gratification of our appetites in his presence."

    "These were the earliest known of the mineral springs of Virginia, their reputation dating back to 1764. The water is chemically described as the best acidulous water found in the United States. A marked characteristic is the predominance of carbonic acid (fixed air), which gives the water a peculiar briskness. It is prescribed in the varieties of dyspepsia accompanied by gastrodynia or spasms, with pains occurring at irregular intervals, and heart-burn; in secondary debility of the digestive canal from the exhausting heats of summer; and in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery without fever, or not sustained by hepatic inflammation. As a tonic the water is successfully used in chronic diseases connected with debility, as in certain forms of dyspepsia, amenorrhoea, chorea and hysteria, etc., and in passive haemorrhage. In dropsy, from its union of tonic and diuretic qualities, it is eminently useful. In sterility, especially when connected with membranous menstruation, it is regarded almost as a specific.

    "Another feature of the sanitary arrangement here, and a very important one, is the bath. A stiff building, of a military appearance, faces the main hotel, about two hundred yards distant, having a quadrangular shape, with two high towers. On the right, looking from the hotel, is the ladies' bath, and on the left the gentlemen's, each sixty by thirty feet, and four, five or six feet deep, as the bathers may choose. The bath, which is fed from the spring, is reported to have made some remarkable cures in sub-acute rheumatism and in neuralgic attacks; and the external application of the water may be aided by the use of the spout directed to the diseased part. Immersions are also prescribed in calculous and nephritic complaints; and in such cases it has been remarked by a distinguished physician that no mineral water promises greater benefits. To persons in average health the bath is stimulating, and, after the first slight shock, leaves the most agreeable impressions."

More Information

Sweet Springs
Address: S.R. 311, Monroe County, WV

Related Resources
Discover Spas in West Virginia
A Driving Tour of Historic Springs in West Virginia and Virginia

Related Books

1831 On Baths and Mineral Waters by Joseph Bell
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

Related Articles
Abandoned Online - Sweet Springs Resort
"State leases Monroe property to resort developer." Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 12 Oct. 2007. 12 Oct. 2007
"Ann Royall/Sweet Springs." West Virginia Archives & History . 2007. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Oct. 12, 2007
Clauson-Wicker, Su. "Sweet Dreams: Longtime mineral-springs spa resort is being rejuvenated." Free Lance-Star March 8,2008
"The History of "Old Sweet." Old Sweet Springs. Dec. 16, 2008
"Property Lease Opens Door for Redevelopment of Historic Resort." West Virginia Department of Agriculture Oct. 11, 2007
WCHS video interview with Warren Smith in 2009
Warren Dudley Smith Obituary June 16, 1941 - November 26, 2010

Photos copyright 2011, Julie Register
unless marked *, which are courtesy of Lea Vidlak



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