In America, 18th Century towns were formed along rivers, around harbors or at a crossroads. Not so Berkeley Springs. It has been a settlement since the 1950s… all because of the healing waters of the warm mineral springs. - Berkeley Springs Museum
Alexandria, Virginia, right?
Yes, but believe it or not, the town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia claims all those too.
Needing a nice place to help us celebrate our anniversary, the better half and I visited there today. Many moons ago we stayed overnight at nearby Cacapon State Park, but didn’t have time for the county seat.
We zipped up I-70, about a two-hour drive that spends the final five minutes on Highway 522, a scenic drive that parallels both the river and the mountains. The stoplight at Washington (522) and Fairfax Streets marks the center of town, with most attractions and stores a short walk away.
With compass and Gunter’s chain in hand, a young George Washington was one of the first visitors to this area. A year before assisting John West with the survey Alexandria in 1749, Washington also helped with some of Lord Fairfax’s western Virginia lands. (Bath was in Virginia until these parts and others broke away from the state to become West Virginia in 1863).
The sick and weary came from all over to take in the warm mineral waters, constant at 74 degrees. Bath, still its official name, became a popular summer resort. The spas are still a draw, as well as the arts scene and mountain beauty.
Local historians note Berkeley Springs is “possibly the only American town set up specifically to be a spa.” More than 150 structures are included in the Historic District. Their website lists 27 different attractions. We visited the following.
Berkeley Springs State Park
Hard to believe a state park is located in the middle of a town, but there she is. A four-acre spot, in use since 1750, the park operates the only spa run by a state. On the grounds are Washington’s bath site, the main bathhouse, the Roman Bath House and the swimming pool.
Panels and artifacts do a delightful job of documenting the town’s history and growth.
Berkeley Springs Bookstore
Always does my heart good to see places like this still going strong. Good selection, including local history books, such as the recently published Images of America for Berkeley Springs.
Fairfax Coffee House
Coffee always seems to taste better at these small town places. The Berkeley Blend here combines Costa Rican Tarrazu, Guatemalan Antigua SHB and Mexican Altura SHG. I have no clue what that means, but it tasted wonderful.
Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Washington
The better half shopped for homemade baked goods and fruits, while I admired the impressive war memorial marker. Two interpretive markers document the town’s challenges during the Battle for Bath, when Major General Stonewall Jackson’s men launched an attack during a snowstorm.
Lot 12 gets the highest raves but is only open for dinner. Tari’s Café impresses with exposed brick, art work and good service and food.
First block of Fairfax and Washington is heaven for shoppers, all independents lined up with one of a kind products. On the corner we found Mountain Laurel Gallery, with regional and national contemporary crafts and wearable art. Friendly lady behind the counter who moved here and found the sense of calm and healing.
It's tempting to compare Old Town Alexandria with Berkeley Springs, but I felt no need to do so. Bath is much smaller, but seemed to cast a magical spell. Washington returned here many times, and now we know why.