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Sweet Springs Hotel

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1830s–1840s, William B. Phillips. 1970s, Harry Elden & Associates; Alex B. Mahood. East side of WV 311, .3 mile northeast of intersection with WV 3
  • Sweet Springs Hotel (HABS/HAER)

For years Thomas Jefferson was credited as the architect of this magnificent building, though proponents of that claim readily acknowledged that it had been built after his death. I. T. Frary, in his Thomas Jefferson Architect and Builder (1950), perceptively noted that the hotel displayed “the type of treatment that might well have been suggested by Jefferson had he been called upon to design the buildings for this famous spa.” Jefferson, although not the designer, did indeed have as much influence as Frary had suggested.

In 1973 a student at the University of Virginia made a study of the spa and discovered that when the hotel's builder, John B. Lewis, went into debt in 1842, he gave deeds of trust to the Bank of Virginia and to several individuals, among them an otherwise unidentified William B. Phillips. In 1994 another researcher found records of an 1840s lawsuit, Hugh Caperton vs. John B. Lewis, in the Monroe County Courthouse. One of the parties, William B. Phillips of Albemarle County, claimed that Lewis owed him $5,535 for brickwork at Sweet Springs. Phillips, as mentioned in connection with Elmwood ( MO3), had been one of the master builders at the University of Virginia. In all likelihood, Phillips designed as well as built the Sweet Springs Hotel, using the Doric order of the Roman Theater of Marcellus, as at Pavilion X at the university and at Elmwood. The five-part composition of three porticoes connected by hyphens that the hotel originally displayed is a familiar Palladian concept, one with which Phillips, through Jefferson, would have been familiar. In sum, had it not been for Jefferson, Phillips could hardly have designed such a building.

For its time and place, the hotel was an extraordinary accomplishment, and any number of observers described it in glowing terms. William Burke, who has been quoted, provided particulars in his 1842 description, as did James Buckingham, who saw it around the same time. The brick building, which originally measured approximately 240 feet by 48 feet, is two stories with a basement designed to accommodate kitchen, storage, and office spaces. A piazza 17 feet deep runs the length of the front, sheltered at intervals by the porticoes and supported on a brick arcade that provides a covered walkway at basement level. The principal floor originally accommodated a dining room that extended lengthwise 160 feet, with additional spaces at either end, each 40 feet wide and the full depth of the building, one the “ladies' drawing room” and the other a ballroom. On the second floor were thirty-six spacious bedrooms. A Chinese Chippendale railing that originally protected the second-story piazza shows in an early watercolor. The motif appears often in Monroe County, notably at Spring Valley Farm and Elmwood.

In the 1970s the state commissioned a design for a fourth wing to provide additional bedrooms behind a portico that would be an exact copy of the three existing ones. This option for expansion was chosen to keep all bedroom, dining, and dayroom facilities for the elderly residents of the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home in the same building. Architecturally, the addition destroyed the five-part Palladian composition. Nevertheless, William Phillips's Sweet Springs Hotel endures as the most significant remnant of Virginia's pre–Civil War resort springs and as one of West Virginia's architectural treasures.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.


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S. Allen Chambers Jr., "Sweet Springs Hotel", [Gap Mills, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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