West Virginia’s unique connection to our first president
Berkeley Springs State Park is renowned for its soothing mineral waters and spa treatments. It’s the site of the annual International Water Tasting festival. And it boasts the world’s only outdoor monument to presidential bathing. Wait. What?
George Washington’s Bath Tub
That’s right. Just outside the Roman bathhouse and museum lies a rectangular, stone-lined tub. It’s so unobtrusive you might not notice it, save for the sign posted on the rock wall above: “George Washington’s Bath Tub (1748).”
Our nation’s first president was a frequent visitor to these warm springs first discovered by Native Americans and noted for their healing properties. As settlers moved into the area, word spread throughout the colonies of this natural health spa. Soon the waters became one of the earliest tourist attractions in present-day West Virginia.
Washington, perhaps attracted by the warm springs and the area’s natural beauty, was one of several prominent colonists to make land purchases here after Lord Fairfax deeded his land holdings in 1776. Washington’s first lands included property in present Jefferson and Morgan counties, and he was a frequent visitor at Harewood and Happy Retreat, the homes of his brothers Samuel and Charles Washington.
The area’s rich colonial history makes it a popular destination for history buffs, but that’s not all. Berkeley Springs (which is officially called Bath) is known for its charming shops, art galleries and restaurants — not to mention the wide variety of spa services you can find here in “America’s first spa town.” And while the bathtub itself is not an actual bathing spot, it remains a favorite photo op among visitors.
Every spring, the town celebrates this quirky historic monument with George Washington’s Bathtub Celebration, a weekend devoted to colonial food specials, dollar (as in George Washington bills) specials, music and local history. Bring a jug to fill up from the public drinking spring for a refreshing and unique souvenir.
Have you heard about some of West Virginia’s other fascinating connections to our founding fathers?
- Built in 1742, Snodgrass Tavern near Hedgesville counted George Washington and Secretary of State Henry Clay among its regular guests. It is one of the oldest structures in West Virginia.
- Charles Town was founded in 1787 by Charles Washington, who memorialized the Washington family by naming streets after them. The town square is named in honor of his brother George.
- Jefferson Rock, an outcropping on the hillside above Harpers Ferry, is named for our nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson, who was so awed by the scenery of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers below that he declared the view was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
These historic sites and many others are located along the 136-mile Washington Heritage Trail that forms a loop through the Eastern Panhandle.
This post was last updated on July 31, 2020