George Washington was scarcely 16-years-old in March 1748 when he began his first trip west. Delayed by the flooded Potomac River, his surveying party turned back to visit what appeared on their colonial maps as Medicinal Springs. Then, as now, the waters flowed from the ground at 74º and between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons per minute.
At the western edge of Berkeley Springs State Park in the center of town, a stone structure identified as George Washington’s Bathtub encloses one of five major springs. It represents the primitive bathing facilities Washington and his friends used during the decades they visited.
The brick Roman Bathhouse, where today’s visitors can soak in 750 gallon tubs of heated mineral water, was constructed in 1815. On any given day, hundreds of people fill jugs with springs water…at two public fountains taking advantage of the Virginia legislature’s decree that the water should always be free to the public.
Bath was established around the spring by the legislature in 1776, the charter specifically stated its purpose as caring for health seekers. The following year, Washington and other members of the colonial elite bought lots and made Bath the country’s first spa. Although the world now knows the town by its post office name of Berkeley Springs, healthseekers still come to “take the waters” as well as enjoy contemporary treatments of massage, aromatherapy and herbal wraps.
Along the south side of the tiny park is The Country Inn encroaching on a piece of land where once stood The Inn at the Liberty Pole and Flag. George and Martha Washington stayed here during their 1784 visit. The inn’s part-owner James Rumsey, demonstrated his newly invented pole boat for Washington and later enlisted his support for a steamboat. A millstone monument in the park commemorates Rumsey’s other inventive talent — the perfecting of mill machines.