Water Facts and Fiction

Mineral ContentGrains/US Gallon
Sodium Chloride0.142
Sodium Sulphate0.598
Sodium Nitrate0.026
Potassium Sulphate0.116
Calcium Sulphate0.572
Ferrous Carbonate0.005
Magnesium Carbonate1.110
Strontium Carbonatetrace
Ammonium Chlorideabsent
Albuminoid Nitrogen0.0012
Organic Matter0.275
Calcium Carbonate6.749
GasesCubic Inches/Gallon
Free Carbonic Acid2.2
Carbonic Acid in Bicarbonates7.14
Dissolved Oxygen0.41
A word about Magnesium Carbonate. In the Materia Medica of homeopathic medicine, Magnesium Carbonate is used to address the following maladies: gastrointestinal congestion, skin disorders and sore, tired body. These same maladies were cited by numerous 19th century physicians as being helped by the Berkeley Springs waters. Today, most bathers use the waters for stress relief and muscle strain.

FICTION A lack of free radiation in the water indicates it has been underground since before 1945 when the first atomic bomb was detonated. There is no testing that has shown this. The drop in flow from the springs due to a recent drought indicates that the water does NOT remain underground for any great length of time.

FACT No one knows the original source of the spring water or the source of its high temperature. Although there are various theories regarding these two issues, the geologic efforts to confirm any one of the theories would be extensive and have never been undertaken. The Cacapon River is a favorite speculative source for the water and was first proposed in the early 19th century. Other geologists postulate a huge underground aquifer.

As for the source that warms the water, there are two main theories. One claims that there is a hot spot of volcanic rock buried deep in the mountains over which the water flows, picking up heat. The other claims that the temperature, which is approximately 25 degrees above the standard for underground water, derives from the depth of the storage place of the water.

The final mystery is why the mineral springs emerge ONLY in the hundred yards along the base of Warm Springs Ridge in today’s Berkeley Springs State Park.

One issue is not in doubt: the source of the mineral content of the water is its passage through the silica sandstone of Warm Springs Ridge. This same sandstone is mined from the ridge as it continues north through town.

FICTION Thomas Lord Fairfax, original owner of the springs and thousands of acres in this area, granted the springs to the state of Virginia and insisted that the springs remain free for the use of suffering mankind. There is NO documentary evidence of either such a grant or protection of the springs by Fairfax. What is FACT is that the Virginia Legislature included the statement that the water shall remain free for the public in its law establishing the town of Bath at the springs in December 1776.

Historic Mentions of Berkeley Springs Water

1791 — French traveler, Ferdinand Bayard: “The water is clear, tepid and insipid; it purges at first”

1816 — Uriah Brown: “The water tastes warm and soft. The more you drink the better it will be liked and can’t drink as much as will do hurt..”

1833 — Peregrine Prolix: “Here copious springs of almost tepid water strongly charged with magnesia which supply a number of agreeable baths.”

1853 — William Burke, MD: “The temperature of the springs is 74. They have belonged to the state since 1776, yet we are almost as ignorant now of their composition as those who lived under the colonial government….They are limpid and soft, and evidently alkaline; indeed the taste of magnesia is quite palpable. They combine with soap to leave the skin soft and unctuous.”

1854 — John Moorman, MD: “This water is tasteless, insipid from its warmth, and so light in its character…when cooled it is a delightful beverage.

1855 — John Bell, MD: “This is a mildly carbonated thermal water of the temperature of 73° F, the same as that which in England, by a strange blunder, is called Bristol Hot Well.”

1884 — Extract from a letter from Dr. C.W. Chancellor to a medical friend in Aug 1884; reprinted in 1885 Trego Hotel brochure: “These waters are naturally highly carbonated..” he claims with questionable accuracy. “I am quite certain that electricity plays an important role in the therapeutic action of the Berkeley waters, from the fact that the influence of the baths upon my system is precisely that which I experienced after taking the baths at Carlsbad, only the Berkeley baths are more pronounced in beneficial results for after a few baths I have thrown aside my crutches and can now stand firmly on my feet, which I have not been able to do for nine months previous to coming here.”

1885 — Trego Hotel brochure: “From its temperature the water is at first insipid and distasteful to many persons but by persisting in its use for a few days, he becomes reconciled then extremely fond of it. From its lightness and comparative purity from mineral substances, one can drink copiously without the slightest feeling of distension or heaviness, and after having swallowed half a dozen glasses may in a few minutes eat a hearty meal without convenience.”

“It is classed among the temperate waters and is therefore milder than the ordinary cold bath and better suited to invalids, ladies and those suffering from overwork, exhaustion and too long confinement in offices and counting rooms. To those who bathe only for pleasure, it it a safe and unrivaled luxury.”

1886 — C.W. Chancellor, MD: “The thermal waters of Berkeley are bright and clear in a remarkable degree…much larger bubbles of gas are given off in considerable numbers, but somewhat irregularly..”

(NOTE: This phenomenon may be seen today especially in the Sinking Sands pool.)