Capon Springs: A Touch of West Virginia Heaven

 

Viewof gazebo and lake at Capon Springs
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    Lake with a gazebo in background at Capon Springs in Hampshire County WV

    Capon Springs' story began in 1765 when a man named Henry Frye stumbled upon the spring.  Of course Native Americans knew of the spring's healing power since they had long used this area as hunting grounds. Today's name, Capon Springs, is derived from the Shawnee word "cape-capepe-hon" meaning "medicinal water." Bur as a white settler with the means to publicize his find, Frye gets the credit. He named the spring Frye Springs and believed that the spring miraculously cured his sickly wife.

    Hampshire County, where the spring is located, was then Virginia. It was America's frontier then. By the early 1800 the spa resort became popular. People wanted to get out of cities and enjoy mountain air. A healing spring was the place to go. In 1849, a Baltimore company, Ricard, Buck, and Blakemore, built the first hotel at the spring. They advertized their Mountain House as the largest spa hotel in the country. It was dedicated the following year by Daniel Webster who announced his candidacy for the presidency at the event.

    Dirt road  at Capon Springs

    But because of the spring's remote location, it didn't prosper. When the Civil War begun and Hampshire County including Capon Springs became part of West Virginia in 1863, times were lean for the spring. During the war the resort was shut down. The spring passed through several hands after the war. At one time, there was even a physician in residence who would meet with guests, discover their ailments and then write a prescription for Capon Springs' water. Tragedy struck in 1911 when Mountain House burned.

    In 1917, Capon Springs experienced a small revival. Will Atkinson, bought the resort and began selling bottled Capon Spring water. He built a bottling plant in a portion of what is now the bath house and distributors throughout the country tried to unsuccessfully to market the water. Capon Springs and Farms Resort' modern history began when Louis L. Austin acquired the spring in 1932. He and his wife Virginia tried unsuccessfully to continue the production of the bottled water but were unsuccessful. However word of the spring's healing power spread and the resort did draw guests.

    boy playing ball  at Capon Springs

    Capon Springs is still in his family's corporation.  A visit to Capon Springs and Farms Resort is a cross between going to camp and stepping back in time to a more leisurely era. That magic water is still there and calls to people. It flows through every faucet in the resort and fills the 65 degree pool. However, there is so much more here to enjoy. That's why so many visitors return year after year.

    Outside dining pavalion  at Capon Springs

    I visited recently with a press trip escorted by Jonathan Bellingham, one of Louis Austin's grandsons and a third generation family owner at Capon Springs and Farms. We arrived at the springs via a winding back road not all of which was paved. It was twilight or as the Appalachian settler would had said, "the gloaming," when we alighted from the van at the scenic mountain retreat we noticed the air was filled with delicious smells. We were just in time to experience the traditional dinner served three times a week at Sunset Lodge overlooking the golf course. The scenic mountains offered a spectacular background at sunset? We all know food smells best when cooked outdoors but nothing rivals this giant cookout. Steak and pork on a giant grill combined with home-style veggies like lima beans, real tomatoes and combined with homemade mac and cheese. It recalled the days when early settlers around the spring would have cooked a community meal outdoors.

    Dunlap Brothers band in dining pavalion  at Capon Springs

    The Dunlap Brothers added to the mood with their Bluegrass fiddles, mandolins and guitars and "took me back to the place where I belong, West Virginia, Mountain Mamma." Maybe that's the magic of this place, once there you feel like it is where you belong.

    man, woman and child at flag raising  at Capon Springs

    You help yourself to the food and wander back to a communal table under the softly lighted pavilion. A blazing fireplace offers a cozy spot on a chilly evening. Everyone stands at attention for the daily flag raising and lowering ceremonies. At the lodge, the rooms are basic but comfortable. Who needs TV when you have a gorgeous view just out your door?

    Pavalion lodges  at Capon Springs

    We stayed at The Pavilion, dating back to the Mountain House era and the most centrally located lodging, adjourning the pool, and across from the Main House & Meeting House. There is a front porch at the entrance and a back porch where, with your back door open so you can listen to the babbling brook. You do have lots of choices about your room when you visit. The Pavilion is divided into two sections by The President's Cottage. It is another 19th century building that was ondce was set aside for the president of the Watson Town Board of Trustees. One sitting U.S. President, Franklin Pierce, did stay here in 1854.  Downstairs are single rooms with shared baths and the upstairs with four bedrooms and two baths is popular with groups and families.

     Main House at Capon Springs

    The Main House dates back to 1887. It was saved from the fire that took the Mountain House and today houses the dining room, living room, kitchen, and gift shop on the ground floor and twenty two guest rooms in the upper two floors. All in all, you have a choice between 15 lodgings, some multiple rooms and others single cottages.

    Log cabin  at Capon Springs

    One of the cutest of the singles is The Log Cabin. It was originally the home of a night watchman for the Mountain House. When Louis Austin purchased the place, engineers told him  the cabin could not be restored. He proved otherwise and had it salvaged.  Then in 1981, the cabin was dismantled and reconstructed using many of the original logs, some others that were salvaged from another period building and some that were hand-hewn from oak trees on the property and built into the structure just as the early settlers would have done with notched corners and mortar filling.

    Originally it was used as a museum to showcase furniture recovered from the Mountain House but so many guests asked to stay in it that it was reworked as a guest cottage by the addition of bathroom to the rear. It has one bedroom and one bathroom.

    Your phone won't work here. That means that nuisance telemarketer can't call you. Internet? Do you really want Facebook when you can sit on your front porch and chat with a new found friend? If you really experience internet withdrawal symptoms, you can pick it up (somewhat) over in the meeting room. The meeting room offers a cozy fireplace and lots of games and comfortable sofas and easy chairs for relaxing. There's a library upstairs.

    Spa  at Capon Springs

    While you are there, take time to visit the Hygeia Bath House and Spa. We enjoyed a bath soak in the special healing waters and the spa offers a host of other body treatments.

    Woman at inlet of pool  at Capon Springs

    Another "must try" at least once is the Polar Bear Dip in the spring fed pool. That is a real wake up. The 65 degree water works better than an energy drink. Next, after a hearty communal breakfast in the dining room of the main house, we went out exploring.

    Boy and man playing golf  at Capon Springs

    Golf is a big favorite there. The new rage, Fling Golf, is fun. Of course, you can do the Hickory Golf using traditional wood shafts at the regulation 9-hole golf par-3 course here as well as get lessons from the local pro, Mike Rogers. Mike is patient with golf newbies like me who asked silly questions.

    When we got the chance to ride back to our rooms in an electric golf cart we hijacked it to do a little more touring. Our patient driver, Chris, tasked with returning the cart after we got to our rooms just hung on back and let us roam. We passed a Disk Golf course that is played with like golf only using Frisbees.  Another fun discovery was the Ping Pong House set up with two tables. There are also horseshoes, croquet, tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, shuffleboard, pickleball and, cornhole. Not being a sports writer, I'm not even sure what the last two are.

    There's a beautiful fishing spot on the grounds with a picturesque white gazebo and a playground for the kiddies.

    Farmer Sam with pigs  at Capon Springs

    Notice there is a "Farms" in the resort name. We got to meet Farmer Sam Brill. Sam is a fourth-generation family member.  Among other sustainable farm productions he raises 66 long-haired and long-horned Scottish Cattle. We didn't make it to see the cattle but we did get to Hog Heaven to meet his pigs. The fact that the pigs have names impressed me. One, Randy, couldn't get enough petting from Farmer Sam. We asked about the meaning of the name, Hog Heaven and Sam explained he tries to let them enjoy their lives here at Hog Heaven until they have to go to the other Hog Heaven.

    In spite of the winding back roads, when you are at Capon Springs and Farms Resort, you are only 2 ½ hours from D.C. but feel like you are in a much more relaxed time.

     

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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