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There’s No Better Place To Be Than These Hot Springs In Virginia

Perhaps it’s because the weather has finally turned cold, but the idea of a hot spring, especially one that carries with it legend and history, sounds pretty appealing this time of year.

Hot springs, which are also called warm springs or “thermal” springs, are naturally occurring springs that maintain a temperature above that of their surroundings thanks to groundwater that has been geothermically heated by the earth’s crust before rising to the surface.

While hot springs can be found all over the world, Virginia is home to more than one hundred of these natural hot tubs, some maintaining a temperature just above a lukewarm bath, with others exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Historically, hot springs have been used as a source of healing and re-invigoration. Because of their high temperatures, minerals are more easily dissolved in the water, allowing for absorption and increased relaxation for those who choose to “take the waters.”

The most famous of the Virginia hot springs are located in Bath County in the small community of Warm Springs. Known as the Jefferson Pools, the springs have summoned visitors to their healing waters for centuries.

Local legend has it that the pools, which are formed from two springs starting in the nearby Allegheny Mountains, were discovered by a Native American brave in the 1600s. The brave was said to be traveling across the mountains to a sacred meeting ground still two days’ journey away when, exhausted, he stumbled upon the springs and fell into their healing waters. The soothing waters so invigorated him that he ran the remainder of the way to the meeting and arrived with such spirit that he was elected leader of his tribe.

In the 1700s, as European settlers and explorers began moving west into Virginia, they, too, discovered the pools. By the 1740s, settlers had built small guest lodges near the pools, often soaking in the warm, mineral-laden waters as a way to ease weary muscles and soothe tired bodies.

With a total of seven hot springs located between the town of Hot Springs and Warm Springs, the area’s fame spread and soon a resort spa, the predecessor to today’s Omni Homestead Resort, grew as a way to accommodate the increase in visitors.

The first gentlemen’s bath house at Warm Springs was built in 1761. The structure still stands today, making it the oldest spa structure in the United States.

Although the pools were always popular, Thomas Jefferson went a long way in securing their place in history when he first visited in 1818. Suffering from what he called “rheumatism,” Jefferson had heard of the healing waters and sought their aid. Considering that he not only stayed for three weeks but took to the water three times a day during his stay, it can only be assumed that when he described the pools as being of “first merit,” he was being elegantly understated.

By 1836, as more people learned of the pools, a separate women’s bathhouse was built, allowing for greater privacy amongst the sexes – and allowing for the swimsuit-optional rule which remains in effect today.

Originally called the Warm Springs Bathhouses, the pools were renamed after Jefferson in 1996 when Club Resorts purchased The Homestead Resort. Now owned and operated by the Omni chain of hotels, The Homestead still oversees the pools, which after more than 250 years, continue to offer relaxation with waters that remain a consistent 98 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the seasons.

With crystal-clear water and a high mineral content that rivals many famed European hot springs, the pools provide health and healing to those who partake in their soothing comfort.

Listed to the Virginia Landmarks Register on November 11, 1968 and the National Register of Historic Places on October 8, 1969, the Jefferson Pools continue to offer a unique opportunity to, quite literally, share the same space and experience as historical figures like Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Mary Lee, Stonewall Jackson and many others.

Visit The Homestead to learn more about the pools’ history, current hours and pricing.

Have you experienced the healing waters at the Jefferson Pools? If so, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Anna Strock
Virginia staff writer for Only in Your State, freelance writer and journalist. Even though Anna has lived other places, somehow Virginia is where she always seems to land.