Sweet Springs is a former springs resort, sanatorium, hospital and nursing home in rural eastern West Virginia.
John Lewis, born in Donegal, Ireland in 1678, fled to America in the late 1720s after he had killed an oppressive landlord who had murdered his brother. 16 John, along with his sons William, Andrew, and Charles, first scouted the Sweet Springs valley in 1754.
The first permanent settler in the Sweet Springs, Virginia valley was James Moss, who erected a cabin at Sweet Springs in 1760. 7 16 Moss, who held no title to the land, was forced to vacate in 1774 when King George III gave a land grant to William Lewis, brother of General Andrew Lewis, who commanded the Virginia militia at the Battle of Point Pleasant and of Charles Lewis who died in that battle, and son of John Lewis, founder of Augusta County, Virginia. 18
William initially built a two-story cabin at Sweet Chalybeate (formerly known as Red Springs) about a mile from Sweet Springs 18 but moved to Sweet Springs in 1784. 1 4 16 18 The first record of a visitor to the resort was in 1790, but accommodations consisted of just a few log cabins. 18
Eager to see the area developed, William offered to provide a home to a district court representing Botetourt, Greenbrier, Kanawha, and Montgomery counties 4 and constructed a courthouse and jail in 1795, which were used as guests quarters in the off-season and the first circuit court session. 16 It had been proposed to develop Fortville, which would have included an elaborate courthouse at its center, but those plans never came to fruition.
William divided 438 acres of his farm between Sweet and Red Springs between his sons John and Charles on October 25, 1804, and turned over the Sweet Springs property to his son, John B. Lewis, by 1805. 18 The resort began to blossom with an influx of tourists from Washington D.C. and other towns who were attracted to the reported healing waters. 4 Doctors claimed that the waters could cure everything from arthritis to depression.
The last circuit court session at Sweet Springs was held in 1817. 7 16
John enlisted the services of Thomas Jefferson to design a hotel for Sweet Springs, with the plans being completed before Jefferson’s death in 1826. Construction started on the 90,000 square-foot building in 1834 and completed in 1839. 3 18 It featured full brick construction with a fully exposed basement, a pedimented gable roof, a five-part facade with three monumental tetrastyle pedimented Tuscan porticoes above the arcade. 17 The interior contained a dining room 160-feet long and drawing rooms and dancing rooms at either end of the first floor, 36 bedrooms on the second floor. 17 18
Over the years, five brick guest cottages were constructed, along with a ballroom, a brick bathhouse, and several dwellings for slaves. 1 The guest cottages were eloquently known as the “Five Sisters.” 4 16
Famous visitors to Sweet Springs included George and Martha Washington, General Lafayette, Jerome Bonaparte, Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, and Presidents Pierce and Fillmore. 20
The resort was sold in 1852 after John incurred large personal debt. 4 18 19 After the debts were not paid on time, various tracts were sold and Oliver Beirne, General John Echols, and Senator Allen Taylor Caperton became the owners of the Sweet Springs tract on August 18, 1852. 18 The trio proposed the construction of additional cottages and another hotel building which were never completed as the resort closed in 1860. 7 16 19
Sweet Springs did not operate during the Civil War, and it struggled to regain its popularity afterward. The resort was sold to Charles C. Lewis, Jr. on December 15, 1903 nad passed into the hands of his son, John D. Lewis, on February 7, 1917. 18
Closure and Reuse
Sweet Springs Resort closed for several years beginning in 1928, 4 5 went into receivership in 1930, 7 16 and was sold several times before being acquired by D.M. Taylor of Roanoke to be converted into a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1941. 1 4 16 18
After the venture was not successful, it was sold to the state in 1943 for $150,000 7 to be converted into a home for the elderly. 18 The complex reopened in 1945 as the Andrew S. Rowan Memorial Home, named after a resident of a nearby village who was the deliver of the “message to Garcia” during the Spanish-American War. 7 Renovations to the complex costing nearly $150,000 were undertaken by the state in 1945, with other improvements happening in 1947 and 1949. 17 A rear addition was added in 1950, and renovations were conducted between 1972 and 1975. 20 Two three-story wings, designed by Henry Elden & Associates and constructed by the Kuhn Construction Company, were added in 1974. 8
The Andrew Rowan Memorial Home closed in 1993. 4 The state donated the property to Monroe County which had planned to convert the site into an addiction treatment facility. 12 Although the county borrowed $1.3 million from the Bank of White Sulphur Springs, the plan never came to fruition and the county defaulted on the loan.
The shuttered resort turned nursing home 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, although the proposal never came to fruition because of a lack of financial resources.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History designated Sweet Springs as 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, owner of Fredericksburg’s Chrismarr Realty and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, inquired about purchasing the resort in 2002 and eventually acquired the property for less than the $10 million that the site was appraised for. 4 Smith proposed bottling the water at Sweet Springs for sale and develop a resort on the site.
Toward that goal, Smith founded the Sweet Springs Management Company to bottle and sell Sweet Spring’s water under the Sweet Sommer label. 4 6 The water, noted for its fresh taste and natural carbonation, was ranked among the top 10 at the International Water Tasting Festival in January 2008. 4 It is the only water from the United States to have won international taste contests four times.
Construction bids to stabilize the collapsing bathhouse were requested in September 2007 with work to be completed by May 2008. 14 All work was to be completed to the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation and involve installing temporary bracing to stop the structural collapse and develop permanent solutions that could be implemented in phases for total reconstruction of the bathhouse.
On October 11, the state leased 625 acres adjacent to Sweet Springs for 80 years to Smith, 2 4 who had developed plans of a golf course on the grounds of 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 19 In keeping with the rural nature of the region, Smith assured that he had no plans for residential development near the resort. 4 Although financial difficulties prohibited the completion of his vision, the bathhouse was partly demolished and stabilized, and two of the “Five Sisters” were renovated and rented out to overnight guests. Damaged windowpanes were replaced with handblown replicas, and the railings along the piazza and stairs were replaced with hand-turned replacements. 19
After Warren Smith died in November 2010, the property languished until it was auctioned to Ashby Berkley for $560,000 9 on November 12, 2015. 10 Work has already begun on repairs to the complex, including a restored slate tile roof on the main building, repairing or replacing gutters and downspouts, and restoring to active use one wing of the main building. Long-term plans include further stabilization work on the bathhouse. 15
- Steelhammer, Rick. “W.VA’s Heritage in Jeopardy: Most endangered historic places list created to secure dozens of sites.” Sunday Gazette-Mail (Charleston) 11 Dec. 2005: 1A.
- “State leases Monroe property to resort developer.” Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 12 Oct. 2007. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
- “Ann Royall/Sweet Springs.” West Virginia Archives & History. 2007. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. 12 Oct. 2007 Article.
- Clauson-Wicker, Su. “Sweet Dreams: Longtime mineral-springs spa resort is being rejuvenated.” Free Lance-Star 8 March 2008. 15 Dec. 2008 Article.
- “The History of “Old Sweet.” Old Sweet Springs. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.
- “Property Lease Opens Door for Redevelopment of Historic Resort.” West Virginia Department of Agriculture 11 Oct. 2007. 16 Dec. 2008 Article.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Old Sweet Springs. Comp. Clifford M. Lewis, S.J. Washington: National Park Service, n.d. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. Article.
- Hodousek, Carrie. “Sweet Springs Resort price $560,000.” Metro News 11 Nov. 2015. 10 Dec. 2015. Article.
- Todd, Roxy. “Jeffersonian Springs Resort in W.Va. Sells for $560,000.” West Virginia Public Broadcasting 12 Nov. 2015. 10 Dec. 2015. Article.
- “Historic W.Va. hotel going up for auction.” Free Lance-Star 25 Oct. 1995. 10 Dec. 2015.
- “Va. doctor buys historic W.Va. resort.” Free Lance-Star 5 Dec. 1995. 10 Dec. 2015.
- “Jefferson’s mark not on this house.” Free Lance-Star 14 Oct. 1994. 10 Dec. 2015.
- “Business Opportunity.” Mountain Messenger 29 Sept. 2007. 10 Dec. 2015.
- “Projects.” Sweet Springs Resort Park.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Old Sweet Springs. Comp. Clifford M. Lewis. Washington: National Park Service. West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
- Logan, Frances. The Old Sweet – Biography of a Spring. Roanoke, Va., 1940.
- Spellman, Lynn and Jim Glanville. “History of Sweet Springs, West Virginia.” Lynnside, 2017.
- Register, Julie. “Sweet Springs in Monroe County, West Virginia.” Discover Spas, 2015.
- Meador, Michael M. “Sweet Springs.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 18 June 2018.