Though the Washington Monument, Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Vernon, and other testaments to George Washington’s legendary life certainly have their merits, none can boast what Berkeley Springs in West Virginia can: the nation and world’s only salute to presidential bathing.
It’s not as strange as it may sound. From Thursday, March 17, to Sunday, March 20, Berkeley Springs hosts the annual George Washington Bathtub Celebration, which celebrates Washington’s role in the discovery and development of the town, as well as his five-by-three foot hot-spring bathtub.
Less than two hour’s drive from Baltimore and Washington D.C., Berkeley Springs sits atop a natural mineral hot spring, one which Washington was fond of visiting from his youth as a surveyor’s apprentice to 1776, when he aided in incorporating the town (then known as Bath). The spring water, rich in minerals that many believe to have healing powers, runs out of the earth at a warm 74 degrees.
The sleepy West Virginia mountain town also claims the title of America’s first spa, as it has received visitors looking to take the waters for health or relaxation continuously since the mid-eighteenth century.
“We’re pretty good at spa treatments by now,” says Jeanne Mozier, long-time West Virginia resident and Berkeley Springs tour guide and historian. “You’d hope we’d have it down after more than 250 years.”
Though the town was no more than a smattering of small cottages and campsites when Washington first made note of it in his journal (which is the source document for much of the town’s history), it’s now home to a variety of spas, pools, and a classic Roman-style bathhouse built in 1815 (“It’s been retiled a few times since,” Mozier says), all showcasing the mineral-rich spring water.
“The basic bathing and spa aspects have remained intact since George was coming here, but I’m sure he’d be fairly incensed at the idea of a facial, let alone a mud wrap,” Mozier says, laughing.