Taking the Waters at Capon Springs Historic Resort & Farms

Capon Springs Swimmers

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are sprinkled with hundreds of natural springs with water temperatures ranging from hot to cold. For thousands of years many of these springs were renowned by Native Americans for their healing properties due to the waters’ unique mineral content. During the 1800’s (and before air conditioning) many grand, renowned and fashionable resorts grew up around these springs where in summer people would travel ‘upland’ to “take the waters” and enjoy cooler temperatures. Sadly, most of the historic resorts of a bygone age have vanished. War, changes in the economy, and fire were the main reasons they gave way to the winds of time. But there are a few remaining. An easy two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Capon Springs and Farms Historic Resort near Wardensville, West Virginia in Hampshire County is one of the special few.

Capon Springs Historic Resort

For Capon Springs the name Capon was derived from what is thought to be of Shawnee origin, with spellings recorded as Cape-Cape-pe-hon, Cacaphon, and Ca-ca-pa-on, meaning “healing waters,” “medicine waters,” or “waters that heal.” Such was the belief in the springs’ healing power that half an acre sold for $900 in gold in the late 18th century. Records show the spring was part of the original Lord Fairfax Tract land grant designated for new settlers. In 1765, a man named Henry Frye was the first European to discover the Capon Spring rising at the foot of the Great North Mountain, a huge vertical outcropping of Oriskany sandstone. Flowing at a steady 65 degrees, it became known as “Frye’s Springs”. Historian Samuel Kercheval wrote that by 1833 Capon Springs was a thriving resort with “17 or 18 houses” and “a boarding establishment kept in excellent style.” In 1850 the State of Virginia built the brick Bath House, which later served as the first bottling plant of the famous spring water before being converted to guest rooms in the 1930s. The next year, the enormous four-story Mountain House was opened with a dedication address by Daniel Webster who used the occasion to announce his bid for the Presidency. Between 1870-1905 the resort community thrived and was known as Capon Springs & Baths.

Nestled into the hills and hollows, arriving at this historic resort is a visual delight and a step back into time as it has retained many of its original wooden clapboard buildings. Now in its third generation as a family owned and operated all-inclusive family style resort, it has a variety of lodging options and on-site activities within its 115-room capacity. A new brick relaxation spa building was built in 2006. Included in the property, guests can enjoy a building just for ping pong, swim, and explore 4,700 acres of six hiking trails and digging in shale formations for late Cambrian and Devonian period fossils.

Our visit included a wonderful walk through the grounds, punctuated by a charming array of historic buildings and cottages in varied early architectural styles. Together with the main lodge and dining room, the tennis court, table tennis cottage, the spring fed swimming pool, newer Hygeia Bath House and Spa (named after the Greek Goddess of Health), and flower accents and plantings, everything comes together to create an enchanting and special historic place, a small Eden. Of special note was the old stone spring house enclosing the spring waters which bubble up 2,000’ below ground through sandstone.

The Capon Springs water is free to everyone who comes to visit. Like stations of the cross, water fountains of the flowing water are situated throughout the grounds. As a special momento, gallon containers of the water may be purchased to take home. The water is smooth and sweet and feels like you absorb it more than drink it.

Resources

The Historic Springs of the Virginias – A Pictorial History by Stan Cohen

Medicinal Springs of the 19th Century

Capon Springs & Farms Resort

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