BLUE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Groups are coming together in celebration over the revival of a more than 180-year-old pavilion at a Greenbrier County spring longtime boasting healing properties.
The Greenbrier County Historical Society and the Friends of the Blue Committee, as well as other historical organizations and community members gathered Saturday at Blue Sulphur Springs near Smoot for a formal dedication ceremony of the recently-restored pavilion.
With the help from private and state funding, such as through Historic Preservation Development Grants through the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History, restoration on the pavilion is officially complete after 10 years of work getting it there.
“I went down to it when they were in the process of starting and what they’ve completed there is amazing, we’re very, very happy for them, for the state, the history of going to the Sulphur Springs,” Curator for the Department of Arts, Culture and History, Randall Reed-Smith said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
“I was actually born and raised in this area so the Blue is a part of my growing up,” said Margaret Hambrick of the Monroe County Historical Society, who joined Smith on MetroNews Talkline discussing the preservation. “It has suffered over the years, we were thrilled that Ms. Rebecca Lineberry gave it to the Greenbrier Historical Society so that we could use public money for its restoration.”
Lineberry donated the title to the pavilion and two acres of property to the historic society in April of 2013. The same year, the Historic Preservation Alliance identified the springs as one of the most endangered historic resources in the state.
The pavilion is a Greek Revival styled-structure and the only surviving piece from the Blue Sulphur Springs Resort, a 19th century mineral spa.
Longtime sitting in disrepair, the pavilion consists of 12 columns that are of a modified Doric Order and holds up a square roof.
According to Greenbrier Historical Society, the pavilion is the only resort pavilion in West Viriginia and one of the only few rural structures built in the Greek Revival style.
While Hambrick said the popular White Sulphur Springs near the Greenbrier Resort has longtime overshadowed Blue Sulphur Springs and the former resort there, she said back in the 1830s and 40s in the Blue Sulphur Resort’s prime, it may have actually taken precedence over the other well-known resorts based on historical accounts.
“In fact, there’s a quote from someone who visited that said basically, ‘those who sleep there arise non-flea-bit in the morning,’ and the implication is that might have not been the case as some of the other resorts,” she said.
The 200-room resort functioned as an elaborate getaway for the wealthy from 1834 to 1858 where many came for the well-known healing properties of the mineral spring.
Mineral springs were known as being a popular commodity during the resort’s prime, and according to West Virginia Encyclopedia, the first mud baths in the U.S. were introduced there in the 1840s.
It was known to have been visited by many famous people, including Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren during his time as the 8th President of the United States, and even the son of Jerome Bonaparte, who was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Hambrick said historians aren’t exactly sure what led to the downfall and eventual closure of the relatively short-lived resort, but they believe it was primarily due to the changing transportation pattern at the time. She said at one point there was a daily stage coach service running from Charleston, going through Blue Sulphur Springs, and on into Lewisburg.
“But, things changed, there was an economic downturn in the country, so the rich planters and the rich folk from the City of Richmond and as far away as New Orleans stopped coming to the resort,” Hambrick said.
In 1858, the resort was sold to Alleghany College, but it eventually endured a fire that destroyed some of the structures.
During the Civil War it was used as a campsite and often a hospital to both sides, but General Harrison Gray Otis decided he wasn’t going to reserve the site for the Confederate Army to use the next time they came through so he burned down most of it. According to Hambrick, there was still some ruins left standing after the Civil War but most of the resort was destroyed.
The food at the Blue Sulphur Springs Resort was a major feature Hambrick said, based on a persevered ledger from the time. They served venison, chicken, bear meat, ice cream and Chinese ginger.
According to the ledger, one season the resort bought items such as a half dozen squirrels and a quart of strawberries from local sellers.
Hambrick said through the pavilion’s restoration, they hope to provide a similar local outreach.
“We’re hoping that the restoration of this pavilion will add to the tourism economy of our area, and we know that it certainly added to the local economy back in the day,” Hambrick said.
On October 29, 1992, the pavilion was added to the National Register of Historic Places.