Berkeley Springs is the “Country’s First Spa” town. Located in West Virginia, this town was named Bath when founded in the 18th century. And it is still a resort town that celebrates the medicinal power of bathing.
“Established as the town of Bath by the Virginia Legislature in 1775, the settled area around the famous warm mineral springs began developing several decades earlier.”Chamber of Commerce
Located just a 100-mile drive from Washington DC and Baltimore, this resort town is a favorite for a weekend getaway or even a one-day shopping spree. The distance from other nearby cities is as follows: Pittsburgh (146 miles), Philadelphia (165 miles), and Richmond (179 miles).
Considering all the travel awards, I decided that my 1-year-old Golden Retriever (Parker) and I should plan a long trek in Berkeley Springs as opposed to our typical weekend adventures at the U.S. National Arboretum, or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and other dog-friendly gardens in Washington, DC.
We hit the road in our Suburu Crosstrek by 8:30 am as I knew the temperatures would be climbing past 90 by the afternoon. (You have to guard against a heat stroke for dogs, especially retrievers which are a double-coated breed.)
I loved the drive to Berkeley Springs. We traveled Interstate 70 for nearly an hour. The rolling green fields and mountain backdrops created a wonderful distraction. Wildflowers bloomed on the side of the road.
I wished I had stopped after crossing over the Potomac River, but I was anxious to get out and walk around with Parker. By 10:45 a.m., we were parking on U.S. 522 which is the main road that traipsed through Berkeley Springs.
“Downtown Berkeley Springs is only a few streets wide as it stretches along US522. Business are clustered in town and stretch a few miles south along the highway. Most attractions are also along US522 as well as WV9 east and west of town,” according to the town’s chamber of commerce.
Three Fun Facts
Fact 1: The town has two names. You can send mail to Berkeley Springs, which is its Post Office name. But the town’s official name is Bath. This is what George Washington (and his cronies) named the spa resort back in 1776. Bath is still its official name for the historic district as well as the warm mineral springs.
“Berkeley Springs is a postal address and a state of mind.”www.Berkeley Springs.com
Fact 2: The temperature of the mineral springs in Bath is consistently 74 degrees F. They flow constantly at least 1,000 gallons per minute. “Although there has been much speculation over the centuries, no one actually knows the source of the water – only its destination in the small block along the base of Warm Springs Ridge in Berkeley Springs State Park,” according to the town.
Fact 3: Traveling ministers damned Bath as a place of sin due to the prevalence of gambling and quarter horse racing in the final decades of the 18th century.
Before starting our trip, I downloaded a Walking Tour map to 28 historical sites of Berkeley Springs. While I didn’t see every venue below, it was extremely helpful to study the interactive map in advance.
Highlights of the self-guided tour included the Berkeley Springs State Park/Berkeley Castle, Washington Street, Dutch Cemetery, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Wisteria Cottage, George Washington’s lots, Upper Fairfax Street, Masonic building/Visitors Center, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Francis Asbury Methodist Church, Courthouse block, and the B&O Depot.
Berkeley Springs State Park
The entrance to Berkeley Springs State Park is located off Washington Street across from Fairfax Green. There are two brick columns at the entrance, flanked by beds of flowers. Walking along the brick sidewalk, we headed toward the historic gazebo.
The park is listed on the National Historic Register. Town promoters built the covered bathhouses starting in 1784. Today, Berkeley Springs State Park includes the original spa and bathhouses as well as such modern-day conveniences as a swimming pool. (Sadly, they had to raze one of the covered bathroom to make space for the pool in 1949.)
Be sure to tour the 1815 Roman Bathhouse along with the Museum of the Berkeley Springs. There is also the Gentlemen’s Spring House. In 1929, the Main Bathhouse was constructed on the south boundary.
The historic Roman Bath House on the north end of the park has nine individual, 750-gallon walk-in tubs in private chambers available by half hour.
The park is closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
George Washington’s Lots
After visiting the baths, you should take a stroll around the town to look for the historical plaques. The original trustees of the Town of Bath are listed, including George Washington’s brother Samuel.
Washington’s brother-in-law Fielding Lewis purchased Lot #58 and Lot #59 for him at a cost of 100 pounds 15 shillings as the General was fighting the British in New York.
He wrote to his brother Samuel: “I am very glad Colo Lewis purchased a lott or two for me at the Warm Springs, as it was always my intention to become a proprietor there if a town should be laid off at that place.”
Washington camped at “Ye Fam’d Warm Springs” in March, 1748. He was working with a group of surveyors employed on which the town was laid out.
The plaque shows the illustration of the Plat of Bath (alias Berkeley Springs) as drawn in 1776. The lots were recorded in the Berkeley County Clerks office on September 26, 1798.
I highly recommend walking up Fairfax Street to see the historic homes. Parker and I discovered a rustic log cabin as well as a farm house. Then we decided to head back to the Farmers Market.
Located on the Fairfax Green, the Farmers Market is held every Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can grab a sandwich, dessert, or fresh fruit, then head across the street to eat it at Berkeley Springs State Park.
A musician playing the guitar serenaded us while children darted in and around the kiosks. Dogs lazily strolled past the food stands. I highly recommend the peaches sold at the Glascock’s Produce farm stand at the entrance. The clerk gave me an extra peach for free to enjoy with my lunch.
If you are lucky, you might be able to buy an Italian grilled cheese sandwich at Bricello’s Grilled Formaggio Cheese food truck. I discovered it at the parking lot next to the Farmers Market.
Not only did I enjoy the most delectable Italian grilled cheese sandwich, but the owners treated to three dog biscuits. (The secret to this delicious sandwich is six key ingredients: mozzarella, provolone, fontina, sun-dried
tomatoes, pesto, country white bread. Mama Mia, delicioso!
As anyone knows who reads my blog, I am the proud owner of two Siamese cats. So I am always interested to visit a cat café if I am visiting a new locale. (Check out my article on tips for traveling with your cat).
Berkeley Springs is home to a private cat adoption service named “Give Purrs A Chance.” The cats and kittens live in a luxurious pink Victorian house at 51 Independence Street. According to its website, it is the “largest square footage cat café in the country with the most cats for adoption.”
“We opened our doors in May of 2017 and have had the honor of placing over 1,100 cats/kittens into their furever home so far!”Give Purrs A Chance
The venue is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 per person (age 8 and up) and $6 (age 7 and below). No appointments are required.
It is ranked #4 of 13 things to do in Berkeley Springs on TripAdvisor.
Historic Star Theatre
You can travel back in time when you visit the historic Star Movie Theater. It is located on the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail, which is a statewide thematic tour of historic theaters. This grouping encompasses both cinemas and live performance venues.
“All of the Trail’s theaters are listed in, or have been officially determined eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places,” according to the website.
The Berkeley Theater began showing films in 1928. “Known as the Star since 1977, this single screen, neighborhood movie house features one film that changes each weekend,” according to the owners.
Don’t miss ordering popcorn with REAL BUTTER prepared in a 1949 Manley popcorn machine.
A special bargain is $2 Buck Tuesday.
Since I was traveling with Parker, I couldn’t visit any of the adorable stores or art galleries in Berkeley Springs. But this didn’t stop from walking around the business district and taking photos.
Although there is no Art Trail, I enjoyed numerous examples of “artsy” Berkeley Springs. One of my favorite discoveries was a large mural on the side of a building. It featured the bucolic region, including the nearby mountains. Balloons floated in the air. The artist also painted a black cat sitting on a stone farm wall. It was quite realistic!
Many stores are operated in historic Victorian buildings. For example, Inspired Chaos is operated out of a yellow house with blue shutters. There is a wide front porch.
The retailer advertises itself as “a shop for those leading a messy life.” I really wanted to visit this charming store but it would have been chaos if Parker was allowed inside!
If you need a little caffeine to fuel your walking tour, consider the Fairfax Coffee House. It is located across from the entrance of the Berkeley Springs State Park.
The owners definitely offer playful names on their menu, including a “N.Y. State of Mind” lox and bagel, “Wake & Steak” rib-eye on a bagel, and Mama Trey’s biscuits and gravy. Yummy!
If you plan to stay overnight, you can stay in the Country Inn of Berkeley Springs. Bordering the park and the springs, the hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The first lodging house operated on this site opened in 1777. The Sign of the Liberty Pole and Flag housed General George Washington in 1784.
Or you can book a room at a historic inn or B&B. Plan a romantic getaway or girls weekend at the Mendenhall 1884 Inn in Berkeley Springs. Maria’s Inn at 42 Independence Street features a big front porch with rocking chairs.
I needed a summer getaway to the woods. So, I booked a legacy cabin at the nearby Cacapon Resort State Park. Although dogs are not permitted at the genteel Cacapon State Park resort hotel, they do rent out some dog-friendly“legacy cabins”. I paid $120 a night plus a $40 pet surcharge for a Sunday night stay.
Berkeley Spring has won numerous awards:
Voted Best Spa Town in the Blue Ridge in 2020 — Blue Ridge Outdoors
Named One of 13 Most Romantic Small Towns in America — Reader’s Digest–2020
West Virginia’s Best Small Town in 2020 — Far and Wide
In 2022, Berkeley Springs was named one of the 9 Best Small Towns in the U.S. for Art Lovers.
But it is no surprise. Berkeley Springs is a special little town. Or as the owners of the historic Star Theater explain, “We like to say, ‘there’s something in the water’ here in Berkeley Springs. Come see for yourself.”
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