Sweet Springs was a springs resort, sanatorium, hospital and nursing home in rural eastern West Virginia. In use from 1833 until 1993, the complex was host to Martin Van Buren, Pierce, Fillmore among many others, and was the subject of the documentary “Return to Old Sweet.”4
In 1754, the region around Sweet Springs was scouted by William and Andrew Lewis, both of whom had served in the Revolutionary War.7 The first permanent settler, James Moss, built a cabin at Sweet Springs in 1760 but had no title to the land. Moss was forced to vacate in 1774 when King George III gave land patents to thew Lewis family. William Lewis 1 4 built a two-story cabin a mile from the springs in present-day Virginia but moved westward to Sweet Springs in 1793. Eager to see the region prosper, Lewis offered to provide a home for the court of the circuit for Botetourt, Greenbrier, Kanawha and Montgomery counties.4 He constructed a courthouse and jail, and used both as guest quarters in the off-season. The circuit court operated out of Sweet Springs from 1795 to 1817, and when court was not in session, the rooms were reused as guest cottages.7
(The stone jail still remains, and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, jail building west of the Alleghenies.)
Lewis turned over the property to his son, John B. Lewis, in 1805.4 The popularity of Sweet Springs and its reported healing waters attracted city-dwellers from Washington D.C. and other nearby towns, who would make the trip to the area via train and buggy. Doctors claimed that it cured everything from arthritis to depression.4 In 1833, Sweet Springs Resort was founded.5
A 90,000-square-foot resort was constructed in 1839.3 The building, designed by William B. Phillips, worked with Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia campus.4 5 13 Local lore claims the building was designed by Jefferson, although no notes from Jefferson’s meticulous records mentioned Sweet Springs.13 The
Over the years, five brick guest cottages were constructed, along with a ballroom, a brick bathhouse and several slave cottages.1 The guest cottages became known as the “Five Sisters” 4 and were developed by General John Echols, Senator Allen Taylor Caperton and Oliver Bierne in 1852.7 The cottages were planned to be built in a semi-circular plan but only half were completed.
The resort was sold in 1852 after Lewis incurred large personal debt.4 The new owners, the Beirne and Caperton families of Union, West Virginia, managed the resort until 1860.
Sweet Springs did not operate during the Civil War, and it struggled to regain its popularity afterward. It closed for several years beginning in 1928 4 5 and went into receivership in 1930.7 The then-685 acre resort was sold from Taylor 7 to the state as a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1941 1 4 for $150,000.7 Extensive renovations costing nearly $150,000 was undertaken by the state and in 1945.
After tuberculosis became more manageable and cases dropped, the complex was converted into the the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home for the elderly, named after a resident of a nearby village who was the deliver of the “message to Garcia” during the Spanish-American War.7
Two three-story dormitories, designed by Henry Elden & Associates and constructed by the Kuhn Construction Company, were completed in 1974.8
The Andrew Rowan Memorial Home closed in 1993.4 The state gave the property to Monroe County, which planned to convert the property into an addiction treatment facility.12 The county borrowed $1.3 million from the Bank of White Sulphur Springs although the plan never came to fruition. The county defaulted on the loan.
The complex was sold at auction on December 2, 1995 11 to Dr. Vasu Arora of Grundy, Virginia.12 Arora had expressed interest in bottling water on the site, processing food, and reopening the buildings into a nursing home or resort.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History designated Sweet Springs one of West Virginia’s most valuable and endangered historic resources in 2005.4 Vacant and deteriorating, the Division was concerned with the spring house, which was in a state of collapse.
Warren D. Smith, was the owner of Fredericksburg’s Chrismarr Realty and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, stumbled upon the Sweet Springs site in 2002, but the private owner of the dormant resort refused to sell until 2004.4 The price that Smith paid was “considerably less” than the $10 million appraised value.
Smith founded the Sweet Springs Management Company began to bottle and sell Sweet Spring’s water under the Sweet Sommer label.4 6
Sweet Spring’s waters was long hailed as one of the best waters in the world, noted for its fresh, smooth taste – and its natural carbonation. In January 2008, the Sweet Spring’s waters were ranked among the top 10 at the International Water Tasting Festival.4 It is the only water from the United States to have won international taste contests four times.
On September 29, 2007, Smith requested bids from general contractors to plan and implement the full stabilization of the collapsing bath house, with work to be complete by May 30, 2008.14 All work was to be completed to the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation, and involve installing temporary bracing to stop structural collapse, develop permanent solutions that could be implemented in phases for total reconstruction of the bathhouse, and include cost estimates of each phase.
On October 11, the state of West Virginia leased 625 acres adjacent to the Sweet Springs property for 80-years to Smith,2 4 who had announced preliminary plans that called for the construction of a golf course on an abandoned 19th century course, an amphitheater, skiing facilities, stables, a shooting range, gardens and orchards, a vineyard and other attractions on the leased property, with a long-range plan to restore the existing resort buildings as a “showcase for historic preservation and economic development.”2 In addition, Smith planned to serve gusts mint juleps made using an original Sweet Springs recipe.
In keeping with the rural nature of the region, Smith assured that he had no plans for residential development near the resort.4 Two of the “Five Sisters” were rented out to overnight guests.4
Structural improvements were also completed on a wood-frame men’s house and the brick cottages.4
On November 12, 2015, Sweet Springs Resort was auctioned to Ashby Berkley 10 for $560,000.9