Bath landmark to get sorely needed upkeep
WARM SPRINGS — The bath houses at the Jefferson Pools are showing their age, and The Homestead, owner of the historic pools where Thomas Jefferson came to "take the waters" in 1818, has decided the time has come to do something about it.
Noting what Homestead Preserve has done with the old dairy across U.S. 220 from the pools, The Homestead has decided to partner with the Preserve in a renovation project for the bathhouses.
The men's bathhouse was built in 1761 and the women's in 1836. They are definitely in need of work. The roof has loose and missing shingles; paint is peeling; and the men's building in particular appears to be leaning. Several unpainted boards have been used to patch the men's side as well.
Inside, light pours in through spaces in the walls. Most of the paint has peeled from the women's dressing rooms, and mold has emerged on the ceiling of a dressing room in the men's bathhouse.
Sean Maddock, vice president and general manager of The Homestead, said the reason the Preserve was asked to look at the facilities is simple. "Look at the dairy — that's why. The difference is night and day. The end result of that project is that a dilapidated dairy has been turned into a phenomenal community center," he said.
Maddock said the Preserve has access to the resources needed for the pools, and it made sense to use experts in The Homestead's back yard.
"We have experience in historic renovation, and we will determine what needs to be done, said Don Killoren, the Preserve's co- general manager. "We will get architects and engineers involved and take into account the historical significance of the property."
Killoren said when the Preserve restored the dairy, it included all significant elements of the original structure and it will do the same with the bathhouses. "There are a lot of options at this point," he said.
Maddock said The Homestead wants to handle the pools the way such an icon in Bath County history deserves to be treated. "Bath County is all about the waters. We want to make sure we get it right and have experts analyze the structure and the facility. We want to keep an authentic Bath County springs experience for generations to come," he said.
At this point, Killoren said he is not sure what structural weakness there may be in the buildings, although he noted the men's bathhouse appears to be leaning.
"We are not sure at this time how significantly they will need to be rebuilt. The first thing we have been asked to do is develop a game plan and a cost estimate. We will do that. It took two years to renovate the dairy properly," he said.
The project is in the beginning stages, Killoren said. The Preserve is talking with architects and hopes to choose one within the next 30 days. Then, the process of evaluating the buildings and doing the necessary research will begin.
Maddock said the intent is not to create a modern spa facility. "We want to keep this an authentic, rustic, historical experience," he said. "We have people who come to The Homestead once a month to experience the Jefferson Pools, and we want to maintain the structural integrity that is there now."
Maddock emphasized there is more to the project than sending a crew in and repairing the buildings. "Given the age of the buildings, they are in pretty good shape. We want to restore what needs restoring and maintain what needs maintaining. We want the same experience for grandchildren that their grandparents have," he said. "We want to do this the right way and use appropriate materials."
Maddock is aware many residents and visitors wonder why the renovation process has taken so long to get started.
"People are really interested in the historic nature of what these baths are. We will assess what we have and move forward," Maddock said. "You don't rush into things here at The Homestead. I ask people to consider we are trying to do the right thing," he added.
One of those who feels the process has taken far too long is Jean Bruns, owner of Anderson Cottage bed and breakfast in Warm Springs. On May 19, Bruns sent a letter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and communicated with APVA Preservation Virginia. Preservation Virginia has a list of endangered properties throughout the state, though the Jefferson Pools buildings are not on that list.
Bruns said she has not heard from the National Trust but has received correspondence from Preservation Virginia. "Preservation Virginia has been very helpful," Bruns said.
Having learned to swim in the pools in the 1930s, Bruns said she has an attachment to the pools. She said guests at Anderson Cottage year after year are "disheartened and disturbed" about the condition of the buildings. She has encour- POOLS, page1
aged them to write letters to The Homestead, and one did get a call back from the resort indicating the situation would be reviewed.
"The pools have always seemed to be a stepchild. The irony of it is, ClubCorp (former Homestead owner) changed the name to the Jefferson Pools to attract attention, then did nothing to make them any better. It appears KSL (Resorts, current owner) is doing the same thing," Bruns said. "You have the pools and the dairy 400 feet apart. One is glorious and the other is falling apart."
Bruns said she has not contacted The Homestead and did not send the resort a copy of her letter.
"We are proceeding with what we believe to be appropriate measures given the historic significance of the facilities. We want to fix them, but we want to fix them so the community can be proud of what we have done. These are uniquely-shaped buildings and are not your standard fix." Maddock said.
Maddock said as plans firm up, the community will know what's going on. "We have stakeholders here in our community and guests from Roanoke, New York City and all over the country that use the pools. We will talk to the community and keep people informed about what is happening," he said.
The relationship with Homestead Preserve for this project will be a good one, Maddock said. Celebration Associates (Preserve developers) knows consultants to bring in. I think it's a great partnership," he said.
Killoren agrees. "We are very excited to be asked to take a look at the pools. We took our time and did the job with the dairy, and we are looking to do the same thing and find something that will work for everyone," he said.
Bruns called the partnership between The Homestead and Homestead Preserve "a very positive step." She hopes the project will move along at a reasonable pace.
"I hope they don't let this fall through the cracks, which in this case are very real cracks. These are signature buildings in this community," she said.
Maddock said The Homestead is in the project for the long haul and wants to make sure it is done correctly.
"I think moving forward on this is self-evident. We will try to be as careful as possible on how we handle this. We could go in and do something now, but we are concerned about preserving the past. We are concerned that we could do something that would cause damage. The buildings could have been better taken care of over past generations, and we want to put them back in the condition they need to be in. We will not rush into this because we want to get it right and understand exactly what we have there before moving forward," Maddock said.
The Jefferson Pools have been listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register since 1968 and the National Register of Historic Places since 1969.