Nicknamed “America’s First Spa,” the small town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, is a haven for those looking for a relaxing weekend — or longer.
Located roughly an hour northwest of Frederick, Berkeley Springs has been a mecca for Washington, D.C., and Virginia elite since as early as the mid-1700s. In fact, a teenage George Washington and his family vacationed in the town when it was still a part of Virginia. Lord Fairfax himself often used the town as a place to relax and many of his friends would join him in the spa in its renowned warm springs.
The Washington family came to the town in 1748 following a tip from Thomas Jefferson who told of mineral streams that stayed warm year-round and may even hold healing powers.
You can visit the site marked “George Washington’s Bath Tub,” though locals fully admit they can’t exactly pinpoint where he bathed.
In 1776 the Washington family, wealthy tobacco farmers, purchased plats of 136 lots in the town. There they drew up streets and incorporated it as the Town of Bath, borrowing its name from the spa town of Bath, England.
By 1802, the town changed its name to Berkeley Springs (because there was already a Bath County, Virginia).
Just like in Washington’s time, the springs are what calls visitors to Berkeley Springs. In the center of town is Berkeley Springs State Park where warm springs offer visitors a chance to dip their feet into 74-degree waters, year-round.
The park offers patrons a place to be pampered. The park’s Old Roman and Main bathhouses offer a wide selection of spa services, including massages, saunas, baths and showers.
Baths are best described as individualized heated pools where floating is encouraged. Each bath is filled with 750 gallons of water heated to 102 degrees.
For years, visitors to the town would bring buckets to gather mineral water from a spigot in the park; however, health department regulations put in place years ago stopped the practice.
Feeling thirsty? Berkeley Springs has several breweries in the area including Berkeley Springs Brewing Company at 110 Michigan Lane, owned by Karl and Denise Wagenbrenner.
The brewing company started as a homebrew retail store in 2012 and expanded a few years later into a brewpub. Since 2018, the brewpub has been located on Michigan Lane, which gives the brewers direct access to the area’s famous mineral water.
Here, the motto is “No B.S. just Good Beer.”
Craft brews are offered by the pint or half pint, or choose a flight to sample four different varieties. Growlers and cans to go are also available.
House-made kombucha and vanilla bean root beer are on tap as nonalcoholic options.
Food is also available on site, and includes a selection of snacks, such as soft pretzel braids, spinach & artichoke dip, hummus or nachos. For bigger appetites freshly smoked meats and sides, sandwiches and wraps are also on offer.
Normal brewpub hours are noon to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays. They stay open until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Check their website for updated hours.
They even offer an AirBnB rental above the brewpub for those looking to extend their stay.
Sitting above the town is one of its largest landmarks, the Berkeley Springs Castle. Privately owned, the castle is not open to the public.
Included in the National Register of Historic Places, the castle was built by Col. Samuel Taylor Suit as a wedding gift for Rosa Pelham, whom he first met when she was 17. Suit purchased the land in 1885, but he never saw the castle complete, as he died in 1888. His will stipulated that the castle was to be finished for his young wife. It took until 1891 before Rosa could live in the 15-room castle.
Rosa would throw lavish parties there until her money ran out and she was forced to sell in 1916. Today, it’s owned by the Berkeley Castle Foundation, which sometimes hosts private events.
Movie lovers should make a point to take in a show at The Star Theatre at 49 N. Washington St.
Built in 1916, the historic Star became a movie theater in 1926. It was owned for 42 years by Jeanne Mozier and Jack Soronen. Mozier was known for touting all things wonderful about Berkeley Springs and West Virginia. They installed the theater’s modern stereo sound, air-conditioning, an upgraded digital projector, and commissioned the theater’s stained-glass windows by a local artist.
Current stewards of the Star Paul and Trey Johanson reopened the theater after a brief pandemic silence in Spring 2021.
Ticket prices remain affordable, at only $6 for regular movies, or $5 for family film matinees. On Two-buck Tuesdays classic movies are shown for $2 admission. For $3 more, turn two tickets into a cozy loveseat – only three sofas are available, so show up early.
Berkeley Springs Salt Cave at 19 Greenway Trail is a new addition to the town’s scene. Longtime local business owners Anthony and Janet Zakrzewski opened the salt cave in May 2021 in an attempt to reproduce the unique microclimate and healing properties of the deep salt caves of the Himalayan Mountains.
Here, a manmade cave contains 7,000 pounds of Himalyan salt and technology to create a unique wellness experience.
There is a salt therapy room and a separate massage room to help you relax and an infrared sauna to sweat out all those toxins. The business also has a shop to purchase crystals and other items.
by Crystal Schelle