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Salt Sulphur Springs Resort

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c. 1816–1857. Both sides of U.S. 219, approx. 2 mi. south of Union

“This spring is celebrated among all the … springs for the excellence of the accommodations, and the polite and obliging dispositions of the proprietors,” Joseph Martin reported in his 1835 gazetteer. Among the most renowned of the area's nineteenth-century spas, Salt Sulphur had the enviable reputation of being the best run, of serving the best food, and of attracting the most congenial society. Lowcountry South Carolinians generally made up the majority of its guests, and many were “accustomed to establish themselves here for the whole season.” In their honor, one of the no longer extant cottage rows was named Nullification Row.

Salt Sulphur is situated “in a deep and narrow valley”—sometimes described as a ravine—and the few antebellum visitors who registered any complaint bemoaned the fact that the grounds were not as extensive as those at neighboring spas. Few were dissatisfied with the accommodations, even though the earliest cabins, dating from the early nineteenth century, were plain. A visitor in 1826 commented that they were “constructed, according to the early fashion of the country, of hewn logs: many of them have piazza's [ sic], and all are close [tight] and comfortable.” He added that “our cabbin [ sic] is quite a commodious one, it has 3 rooms, 2 of which we occupy as bed rooms & the other as a sitting room.”

Larger structures built of limestone quarried at the site soon augmented the log cabins. The largest remaining, the hotel, contained the dining room, as well as a “dancing saloon” and guest rooms and was fronted by “a double piazza,” or two-tiered porch. Surviving account books for building and furnishings show that many supplies and fittings were hauled across the Alleghenies from the Virginia towns of Lexington and Staunton. The contractor, John J. Fullen, Sr., of Lexington, built with little regard for ostentatious display, but with great attention to permanence and strength. Later, in the 1830s, Fullen built a larger hotel, the Erskine House, also of locally quarried limestone, on a ridge overlooking the valley. His no-nonsense approach in its design is documented in an early account which described the three-story structure as “looking as though its builders had gazed with envy upon those fine mills that the textile barons had been erecting in Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” but its three-story piazza was more typical of the South. Unfortunately, the Erskine House fell into decay in the twentieth century, and only vestiges now remain.

The Civil War struck a near-fatal blow to Salt Sulphur Springs. The buildings served as barracks for troops at various times, and after the war the resort reopened only sporadically. Hotel operations ceased for good in 1936. Now privately owned, the complex is well maintained, and easily visible from U.S. 219, which circles, a bit treacherously, around it.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.
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Citation

S. Allen Chambers Jr., "Salt Sulphur Springs Resort", [Union, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WV-01-MO14.

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