Time for Romance and History

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal 4 Comments

Sometimes you go
somewhere and just step smack dab into the middle of history. That’s what
happened to us last week when my husband and I went to a Southern Gospel event
at the Greenbrier Resort Hotel in West Virginia. A beautiful place that simply
reeked with history. Made this writer wonder if I could someday write a story
in such a gorgeous setting incorporating some of the history of the place. They tell you to write what you know, so that might make it hard for me to write about rich socialites dancing their way through the hot days of summer. I grew up on a farm working my way through the hot days of summer or reading in the coolest place I could find!
In the 18th
and 19th centuries, the more affluent people of the country often
escaped the heat and humidity of their towns or plantations by going to
grand hotels that sprang up around sulfur springs. It was thought that “taking
the water” at these resorts was a cure for a wide variety of ailments including
arthritis and weak joints. After the sulfur water springs in this remote valley
in the Allegheny Mountains were discovered in 1778, it began to draw people.
The Grand Central
Hotel, the resort that preceded the present Greenbrier was built in 1858 and
was known as “The White.” 
These hotels didn’t only have cures for physical ailments, but they were a great place to seek some romantic times. The clock
here became the focal point of many romances in the olden days when suitors
left notes in the bottom area of the clock for their sweethearts. Perhaps with
directions for a rendezvous in the gardens or maybe even a sweetly worded proposal. Now there’s a box on the
mantel for those still wanting to post a romantic note so that the old clock won’t be damaged by too many romantic fingers touching it.
During the Civil
War, the hotel changed hands between the Union and Confederate Army. Somehow it survived the tribulations of war and once the war ended,
people continued to flock to the springs in hopes of curing rheumatism and more.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway bought the property in 1913 and added a new building to “the
Old White.” They renamed the resort The Greenbrier Hotel. The railroad company’s
expansion also included a “mineral bath department” and an 18-hole
golf course. It soon became the vacation spot of choice of the rich and famous
including President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.
Then Japan bombed
Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war. The government leased the hotel
and used it to house German and Japanese diplomats until a military trade could
be arranged. After that, the hotel became a hospital for wounded soldiers.
When the war was over, the
hotel was turned back over the Chesapeake railroad and a complete makeover began.
Dorothy Draper was hired to redecorate the hotel and she brought her love of
colors and flowers to the task. It was said that when she had finished with a
room it was “draperized.” She intended for the resort to be a place where a person should
have fun and be cheered by color.
With the cold war
going on after World War II and many citizens building fall-out shelters, the government
undertook a secret project of building a bunker disguised by a new West Virginia wing of
the Greenbrier. This was to house the President and the Congress in case of a
nuclear attack. It was thought that fallout from any bombs dropped on
Washington D.C. or Fort Knox would be somewhat blocked by the mountains and the radioactive air would slide around the beautiful valley. The builders and public were told
the hotel was building exhibition halls. 

Only three government officials knew
the location of the fallout bunker, but in the case of nuclear attack, the President and his cabinet along with Congress members would be evacuated to the
bunker and locked away behind thick steel walls in hopes of keeping the government
up and running. It was kept stocked with enough food and water for 1,000 people
for forty-five days. We took a tour of the bunker area and I could imagine a
war breaking out between the occupants in those close quarters! 

The secret location
was leaked to the press in 1992 which ended any possibility of its future use by the
government as a bunker. Some felt its usefulness was outdated and that it was a waste of
government money to keep it maintained and ready to be occupied. Once missiles
could be launched instead of carried in by airplane, there wouldn’t be enough time after notice of an impending attack for the government people to make it from Washington D.C. to the Greenbrier location before the bombs were dropped. So now
it’s a bit of history that people like me pay money to see.
Currently, the hotel has
in excess of 700 rooms and covers 6,500 acres. It has a 40,000 square foot spa and
hires a staff of well over 1,000. And it is a cheerful, flowery and restful place. That is except for the long walk to your room and back to the lobbies. We got our exercise. 
For more
information and to see more photos check out these links.
It was a fancy place for this old country girl, but I did enjoy Dorothy Draper’s colors throughout the hotel or the part of the hotel I saw. But I didn’t go take the “waters.” Instead we took in the spiritual waters of the Southern Gospel songs. 

Do you like imagining the romances that may have started at this place? The business deals made? Murders plotted? I mean just by writers like me. LOL.

Comments 4

  1. sharon m

    I enjoy historic hotels and this one looks absolutely beautiful. we have stayed in some historic National Park Lodges and enjoyed their history of special visitors as well. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Sharon, I've always thought it would be great fun to stay at the Yellowstone Lodge or some of the other historic lodges out west. Visited the parks but we always stayed at motels outside the parks. Actually once we slept in our car close to the Grand Canyon because we didn't have reservations anywhere and all the motels were full. Except for that one a couple of miles on down the road after we gave up and pulled off and decided to sleep in the car. LOL. We saw it the next morning. But we did get a good look at the starry sky that night.

  2. Nancy Vance

    Oh my goodness, Ann! You were within 20 miles of where I grew up! My hometown is Union, WV, just a few miles away in the next county of Monroe. Although I've never been a guest at The Greenbrier, I've performed there many times as part of a 4-H folk dance team. Going to The Greenbrier for lunch was a treat for my mother and her church friends. Even though most folks who live in the area aren't priviliged guests, The Greenbrier is part of the fabric of life in that region. So glad you were able to take in all its glory. Do come again, and if you're willing and able, I now live just under 100 miles north of White Sulphur Springs. You'd be welcome here any time.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      So I was in Nancy Vance territory. The hotel was really nice but the prices were a bit eye-opening. It was a huge place. Almost walked my husband too much. I like walking, so it wasn't a problem for me. I was wishing for better weather to go out and walk the grounds, but it was rainy while we were there. Not sure we'd go again for another gospel event, but you never know. I might have passed close by you on the way to Greenbrier. We came down from Charleston after visiting our son in WV.

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