Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jefferson Pools - Warm Springs

The 1761 octagonal wooden structure covers the men's bathing pool; there is an octagonal opening in the roof that lets steam escape. The round ladies' bath house (1836) is pictured below.

In Warm Springs, five miles north of the vast Homestead Resort (an astonishing 15,000 acres), is an old, octagonal wooden building with steam rising from its roof. The sign reads Jefferson Pools, named in honor of the author of our Declaration of Independence, who in 1818, at age 75, lowered his arthritic body into the healing waters daily over a period of three weeks. The pool holds 40,000 gallons of clear mineral spring water with a constant natural temperature of 98 degrees. It is considered the oldest spa structure in America, dating back to 1761; it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. In the late 18th-century the village of Warm Springs (the county seat of Bath County, which abuts West Virginia) expanded rapidly as a spa resort. Hotels, dining rooms and kitchens, taverns, livery stables and a blacksmith shop, a church, laundry and related buildings were built to accommodate the growing numbers of guests.

Today there is a separate, larger spring-fed pool and wooden structure (1836) for use only by women (Robert E. Lee's wife, Mary Custis Lee, was a fan of the women's bath); both are operated by the Homestead Resort and are open to the public (open seasonally 540-839-7741; bathing is segregated by sex, and during adult-only (18+) hours, clothing is optional), $17 for one hour.

Fortunately, the buildings retain their primitive, authentic ambience. The Jefferson Baths sit directly on U.S. Rte. 220, just south of the intersection of Rte. 39 in the quaint village of Warm Springs, home to several atmospheric and bargain-priced hostelries, notably the Inn at Gristmill Square and the Warm Springs Inn.

Update: October 4, 2009
KSL Resorts, new owners of the Homestead Resort, is commissioning an architectural study to determine what should be done to restore the historic structures, which are in a serious state of disrepair. For details, click on this link:

If traveling to Warm Springs west from I-81 near Lexington, VA, the lucky motorist will travel along the Maury River through Goshen Pass, one of Virginia's great nature spots. This area is within the George Washington National Forest and is almost entirely rural. Take normal precautions when hiking through this area, which is a natural habitat for bobcats, raptors, rattlesnakes and black bears. No kidding. Cell phone coverage is spotty.

Between Warm Springs and Covington (along Rte. 220 just west of the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs) is Falling Springs, which can be seen from a roadside pull-off. No hiking necessary, but those who do are rewarded by a path that goes behind the falls to a pleasant swimming spot.


Ravyne said...

Just returned from a getaway with my 8 year old granddaughter. Out of all the things we visited we loved the Jefferson Pools and Goshen Pass the best. So much, that we are going back next weekend to bask in the pools again before they close for the season. If you go - be sure to stop at the Milk Market at the Old Dairy Barn right across the street for a gourment sandwhich and some of the best cheese EVER!!

lise gordon said...

Well, here we are in 2011 and the Jefferson bath houses are in worst shape they probably have ever seen.
If the owners are not willing to at least restore them, please turn them over to the Bath County Historical Society.

Ravyne said...

We just returned from another great visit to Warm Springs!! Wonderful - enjoyed two visits during family time at The Jefferson Pools! My granddaughter and I loved all the new repairs - we prefer the men's because the pool is deeper a- the women's tend to get crowded up with small children during family soak time. Thank you to the Homestead for keeping these historic baths available - we traveled 6 hours one way to enjoy and will keep coming back again and again!

Ravyne said...

Lise - have you been there recently? Repairs have been made and the lines of people to enjoy the Pools have been very happy! Again, I refuse to stay at the The Homestead because of their outrageous prices and surcharges and fees BUT the Pools are the ONE good thing they provide to the public. If the Pools are turned over (although, I don't know why they would do that - it's a "cash cow"..lol)to the Historical Society I hope that they are not closed down if they lack the funds to keep it operating : (