2011-04-21 / Top News

Pools keep detiorating

By Margo Oxendine • Staff Writer


This overview, taken from a helicopter 10 days ago, illustrates the poor condition of the roofs of both the pool bathhouses in Warm Springs, as well as the adjacent cottage. The ladies’ pool has been closed for the winter, and will reportedly reopen in late May. The men’s pool remains in use. (Photo courtesy William K. Jones) This overview, taken from a helicopter 10 days ago, illustrates the poor condition of the roofs of both the pool bathhouses in Warm Springs, as well as the adjacent cottage. The ladies’ pool has been closed for the winter, and will reportedly reopen in late May. The men’s pool remains in use. (Photo courtesy William K. Jones) WARM SPRINGS – Almost since time began, they have bubbled up from the ground.

The warm, effervescent pools in Warm Springs have lured tourists to the region since the first structure surrounding them was built in 1761. By 1800 the Warm Springs Hotel, a grand resort destination, began welcoming guests who traveled by carriage to take the waters.

Today, the Warm Springs Pools have changed. The Warm

Today, the Warm Springs Pools have changed. The Warm Springs Hotel ceased to operate in 1924; it and the pools had been purchased some time before by Virginia Hot Springs, which owned The Homestead from 1891 until selling to Club Corp in 1993.


Deterioration just below the roofline on the men’s building continues, though that side is currently open to visitors. Deterioration just below the roofline on the men’s building continues, though that side is currently open to visitors. One of the first things Club Corp did was change the name to the Jefferson Pools, in 1994. Several years ago, the resort was sold to KSL, a private equity firm specializing in investments in the travel and leisure industries. The Homestead is just one of many luxury resort properties in its holdings.

The most significant recent change to the Jefferson Pools is the condition of its bathhouses. While the crystal clear waters still spring from underground, the structures surrounding them are in desperate need of repair and restoration.

The condition of the pools has distressed visitors and locals alike. Complaints have abounded for several years now. Still, it seems as if nothing has been done to rectify the state of this historic site.


Rotting boards were visible around the eaves of the reception building at the Jefferson Pools when this photo was taken nearly a year ago. (Photo courtesy Preservation Virginia) Rotting boards were visible around the eaves of the reception building at the Jefferson Pools when this photo was taken nearly a year ago. (Photo courtesy Preservation Virginia) Hella Armstrong of Hot Springs is one of many in the area who are distressed. She began contacting The Homestead about this, by letter and phone, in 2007.

“Those pools are the mother of The Homestead,” she said this week. “If it weren’t for the pools, The Homestead would not be what it is today. The pools are a drawing card for The Homestead, in my opinion. They are also a fantastic historical monument – the only one of its kind in the country.”

Julie Langan, director of resource services and review at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, agrees wholeheartedly.

“I have always had a personal interest in the pools because of my research into the historic Virginia springs,” she told The Recorder Wednesday. “In November 2009, I went and took the baths, and was horrified by their condition. Not long thereafter, a colleague of mine was contacted by a Bath County person who was also concerned. That started conversations that led to the baths being placed on the endangered list by Preservation Virginia last fall.


Wood clapboards on the ladies’ pool, build in 1836, are showing signs of neglect. The structures have been listed on national and state registers since the late 1960s. (Recorder photos by Mike Bollinger) Wood clapboards on the ladies’ pool, build in 1836, are showing signs of neglect. The structures have been listed on national and state registers since the late 1960s. (Recorder photos by Mike Bollinger) “As a rare and intact example of an 18th century bathhouse, it is my opinion that this complex is a national treasure with significance that goes far beyond the local community,” she said. “The baths are a nationally significant resource.”

While there are other bathhouses and other springs across Virginia and West Virginia, “What distinguishes the Warm Springs baths is how original they still remain,” Langan said. “They really are authentic bathhouses that haven’t been gussied up.”

Langan contacted Peter Faraone, Homestead vice president and general manager, this past February.

“I had a brief phone conversation with him, and expressed my concern about the condition of the baths. I had two points to make: First, to express my concerns, and secondly, to make sure he understood that there are rehabilitation tax credits that could be used to help offset the expense of rehabbing the baths. He said thank you, he was aware of those credits. I reminded him that the baths had a big anniversary coming up this year (250th), and it would be a perfect time to restore them.”

Langan added, “It was a cordial conversation, but he didn’t share very much, and I didn’t expect him to. He was pleasant; he was polite; but he made no promises. There were no assurances that anything was going to happen.”

In June 2010 – 10 months ago – Faraone told The Recorder that repair work would begin on the bathhouses in three weeks.

County residents who have grave concerns about the condition of the bathhouses have kept a watchful eye on the place, but no one reports seeing any evidence of any repair work. The women’s pools were closed this winter, and will not reopen until late May.

Armstrong actually borrowed a hammer when she visited the pools last fall, and did a few minor repairs before she took the waters. She had been bathing for about 15 minutes, she said, when a hotel representative “showed up and reprimanded me. The truth is, I have been doing that for years; I have repaired so many boards in there.”

Armstrong is a force to be reckoned with on her own, yet she is not alone in her zeal to see the bathhouses restored.

A loose knit group, which includes Dr. Lee Elliott and her husband, Dr. Bill Jones, a hydrologist, has gathered twice to discuss what might be done, or how they may have some effect on improving the condition of the pools. The group met this past Monday.

Elliott said Wednesday, “It is critically important to preserve them; they are a very important part of Virginia history.”

Langan, who had spent the weekend at The Homestead, joined the group Monday.

Elliott reported, “Julie said there are very favorable tax credits in Virginia – the best in the United States – for preserving National Historic Landmarks such as the bathhouses … If the hotel did historically correct work on the pools, there would be help in this situation.”

Elliott admits, “I don’t know what direction this group will take. Nothing is secret; we want to be completely open about it, and we welcome anyone to join us (contact wkj30@hotmail.com). I feel very optimistic that something can be done. The buildings are in such bad condition, and we would certainly like to see something done before next winter; I am concerned what next winter would do to the buildings.”

She added, “This group just really wants to be helpful in the process of getting this done. We want to have good meetings with Peter (Faraone) and KSL.”

Last week, The Recorder sent Faraone a list of questions about the bathhouses – are there plans for repairs; what work, if any, is planned; who would do that work; and, if a consortium were interested in purchasing the pools, would KSL be interested in selling.

Wednesday afternoon, director of marketing

Carol Stratford said, “Obviously, The Homestead does ongoing maintenance to the pools.” She was unable to elaborate on those maintenance tasks.

Stratford added, “They are working on the ladies’ pool now, and we are set to open the third week of May, depending on the weather.”

The men’s pool remains open for mixedgender bathing.

Regarding renovations and repairs to the exterior of the bathhouses, Stratford said, “We are always investigating different options, but nothing has been confirmed … There are no big specific plans to refurbish the entire pool.”

Last Friday, Faraone himself answered the final question regarding a possible sale of the pools.

“Yes, we would consider selling the pools,” he wrote in an email.

There has been talk for more than a year about a group organizing a non-profit, and buying the pools in order to save them.

Elliott said Wednesday, “That is certainly a possibility to explore. People are really concerned … There are great resources of people in the community. But, it is very early yet. We are committed to working with the hotel.”

Armstrong, for one, would “love to see the pools remain with The Homestead and definitely be restored. KSL has the money; they just bought another big resort. Somebody in KSL must have a heart, and come to look at this.”

Langan said Wednesday, “Mr. Faraone told me that they have done a feasibility study on rehabilitating the baths. I don’t know when it was done, or who did it.”

One concern of Langan’s is, “How extensive a project is envisioned? I don’t think most people want the baths to be modernized. We want them to remain authentic; we don’t want them to be dramatically changed … I am not sure whether the owner really appreciates their historic significance.”

At Monday’s meeting, Langan was asked if there are any restrictions, or any way to control, the rehabilitation work that might be done.

“The short answer is no,” she said. “The bathhouses may be a Virginia Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. Many think that gives my office some say-so, but it doesn’t; they are private property.”

Langan added that her conversation with, and follow-up letter to, Faraone were not intended “to be a thorn in his side; I was calling to make sure that he and KSL understand how the tax credits can offset the expense of rehabilitating the bathhouses.”

Stratford spoke to this. “Our CFO (Rita Greathead) has definitely looked into checking these tax credits out.” She noted that rehabilitating the bathhouses “is a big undertaking, because of their historic nature … There are no plans to do this, at the moment.”

Langan, meantime, has “not heard from (Faraone), and I didn’t expect that I would. I imagine he would not appreciate a bureaucrat from Richmond calling him on the phone … I really just want to be helpful, as a resource for the hotel, and for the group. The only thing I care about is those bathhouses being preserved.”

Members of the group, which has “no designated leadership,” Elliott says, feel the same way.

Armstrong is happy to state her viewpoint. “The Homestead is the nucleus of this small community,” she said. “It is the bread and butter for many people here. If The Homestead goes, what is here anymore?

“Something definitely has to happen,” she added. “How can we convince (KSL) to do something?”

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