Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Nestled in the mountains of the US state of West Virginia is the tiny town of Berkeley Springs. As its name implies, Berkeley Springs is the site of natural springs, which have drawn people to the area centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the region. The waters of the springs have long been said to have medicinal, healing powers. The modern town of Berkeley Springs was founded at about the same time the United States declared its independence. In fact, it was a favorite vacation getaway for George Washington. Today, Berkeley Springs is a tourist and resort town well-known for its spas. 

Geography

Berkeley Springs landscape
Landscape of Berkeley Springs.

Berkeley Springs is situated in the Appalachian Mountains, in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, close to the Potomac River, which serves as West Virginia’s border with Maryland. The town of Berryville borders Berkeley Springs to the south, while the town of Jimtown borders it to the north. West of Berkeley Springs, bordering the Potomac is the Widmeyer Wildlife Management Area. The closest town to the east of Berkeley Springs is the small community of Ridersville. Within Berkeley Springs itself, the river known as Warm Springs Run flows through the town. The total area of Berkeley Springs is just 0.88 sq. km. 

Population Of Berkeley Springs

Berkeley Springs has a tiny population of just 590 residents. Close to 95% of its residents are classified as white, while the rest are from other racial backgrounds. Around 97% of the people in Berkeley Springs speak only English, while Spanish constitutes the next most prevalent language at 2.5%. Although 100% of the town’s population was born in the United States, just 27.15% of the population was born in West Virginia. There are no foreigners or non-citizens recorded in Berkeley Springs.

Economy Of Berkeley Springs

Average earnings in Berkeley Springs are just $26,098, though the poverty rate is not too high at 9.63%. Tourism is the main industry in Morgan County, of which Berkeley Springs is a part. 

History Of Berkeley Springs

Berkeley Springs
Berkeley Springs State Park signboard. Editorial credit: Alejandro Guzmani / Shutterstock.com

Long before the arrival of European settlers, the fountainhead of warm mineral waters was frequented by Native Americans. The spring waters in the area were said to have health benefits, including the power to heal ailments. Both Native Americans and European settlers visited the area during the colonial era. The present site of Berkeley Springs was first noted on a map drawn up by the father of Thomas Jefferson, though it was given the name Medicine Springs. One year later, the Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia was surveyed by a team that included the person who would become the first US President, George Washington, when he was just 16 year old. He was so fond of the area that it became his favorite vacation spot. In 1776, the year that the United States declared its independence, Washington’s family and friends drew up plans for a new town in the area. In December of that year, this new town was incorporated as the town of Bath, in honor of a spa city in England with the same name.

Berkeley Springs bath
Berkeley Springs natural spring bath tub.

Washington, his family, and other members of the colonial elite were the town’s first land owners. The town’s main north-south street was named in Washington’s honor, while the main east-west street was named for Lord Fairfax, the man who commissioned the aforementioned survey of the region in which Washington took part, and who built a summer home in the area before the Revolutionary War. The area in town around the springs, known as The Grove, was made into public land, and eventually became Berkeley Springs State Park. Bath’s population grew during and immediately after the Revolutionary War, as wounded soldiers came to the town hoping to be healed by its warm spring waters. The town was renamed Berkeley Springs in 1802, when the Virginia postal system was created, and there was already a town named Bath in Bath County to the south.

The growth of Berkeley Springs was stymied during the American Civil War, when the pro-Union counties in northwest Virginia seceded from the state to form West Virginia. In the period between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the people of Berkeley Springs were deeply divided on whether to encourage tourism in the town or support the area’s manufacturing sector. This was a debate that halted when local manufacturing collapsed during the Great Depression. In 2009, The Town of Bath Historic District was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

Attractions In Berkeley Springs

Berkeley Springs boasts several interesting attractions. One of these is the aforementioned Bath Historic District, which features many historic buildings. Among these buildings is the Roman Bath House, which is situated in the previously-mentioned Berkeley Springs State Park. On its second floor is the Museum of the Berkeley Springs, where visitors can learn about the history of the town’s springs. The Roman Bath House was built in 1815, making it the oldest building in town. It is one of several historic and modern spas in Berkeley Springs.

Berkeley springs state park
Entrance to the Berkeley Springs State Park.

Berkeley Springs State Park is itself a major attraction in the town. Like other state and national parts in the United States, it offers outdoor activities like camping and swimming. In fact, swimming in the State Park is a unique experience, as the park’s pool is filled with the same natural spring water that Berkeley Springs is famous for. The Berkeley Springs State Park is also a featured site on the Washington Heritage Trail. This trail spans three West Virginia counties, and includes not just Berkeley Springs, but the sites of early industries, railroad landmarks, and Civil War sites.

Berkeley SpringsGazebo at Berkely Springs during Christmas. Editorial credit: Alejandro Guzmani / Shutterstock.com

Another historic landmark in Berkeley Springs is Berkeley Castle. The castle is situated atop Warm Spring Ridge, overlooking the State Park and the rest of the town. It was built as the cottage of Colonel Samuel Taylor Suit and his family. Construction began in 1885 and finished in 1887. During the 20th century, it was used for a variety of activities, including lodging, dancing, and as an artists’ retreat. In 1954, a man named Walter Bird purchased the castle and began running it as a tourist attraction. The castle has 13 rooms, plus a basement dungeon.

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