The sign read “George Washington’s bath tub (1748).” If someone meant to get my attention, they succeeded. This rectangular stone tub encloses one of the natural warm springs in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. The town was originally called Bath in the eighteenth century when George Washington visited the area as a sixteen-year-old surveyor. Public use of the springs in the area dates to the 1740s and the land was owned then by Lord Thomas Fairfax.
Called America’s first spa, the warm mineral springs have been prized as therapeutic waters for several centuries, used by bathers and commercial bottlers alike. Over his lifetime, Washington visited the springs at least a dozen times to “take the waters” and socialize, sometimes staying for several weeks. The first available lots in the town were bought by the elite of the day, including Washington, three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two Revolutionary War generals and at least six members of the Continental Congress.
With a constant temperature of 74 degrees and a flow of 1500 gallons per minute, the springs sit at the center of the town, and are now part of Berkeley Springs State Park. Washington purchased two lots overlooking the springs in 1777 and supposedly hired a contractor in 1784 to build a summer home and outbuildings. I’m not sure if he ever stayed in them.
The oldest building in the park, the Roman Bath House, dates to 1815. An interesting museum in the building tells the story of the baths through the years. The town was dotted with large hotels and spacious summer homes of the wealthy. In the Victorian era people took to the healing waters to cure all kinds of ailments and
pavilions or covered bath houses filled the area. Even today the park offers visitors the opportunity to take the waters in one of nine individual bathing chambers on the ground floor of the building.
This was one of those finds I kind of stumbled upon on a crisp fall day during a family trip to view the colored leaves. I had not visited that area of West Virginia before and happily realized that the region’s history is quite fascinating.
So, did young George really use that tub? Probably not, but it’s representative of the kind he might have used. He does have a long association with the town and the springs. And, I’m told the area holds the George Washington Bathtub Celebration each year in March on the anniversary of the his first visit. Not sure what happens then, but every town needs a gimmick, right?
For more posts about George Washington: https://historyplaces.wordpress.com/tag/george-washington/