Berkeley Springs and the Town of Bath Historic District Walking Tour
Founded shortly after Virginia declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776 and named for the famous English spa resort, the town of Bath in what is now Morgan County, West Virginia centers on a cluster of natural spring waters that attracted visitors to the site well before the arrival of Europeans. One of the town’s earliest supporters was George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army at the time and a frequent visitor to the area over the course of the colonial period. Washington first arrived to investigate the natural springs there in 1748 at the behest of his benefactor Lord Fairfax, who had received the land surrounding it as part of an inheritance from his mother and showed an interest early on its potential as a resort destination. Eventually, Washington convinced Fairfax to donate the land to the government of Virginia, which passed legislation in the midst of the American War for Independence providing for the sale of quarter acre lots around the springs (which were to remain open for public use). Washington convinced many of his fellow rebel leaders to purchase those lots, ensuring the town’s status as a resort for the wealthy elite. The town continued to grow over the course of the nineteenth century. In 1802, when the first post office arrived to the area, it gained an additional moniker (Berkeley Springs) to avoid confusion with Bath County, Virginia to the south, and in 1820 the town became the seat of the newly created Morgan County. The town’s growth was temporarily halted, however, by the outbreak of the American Civil War. Because the town and surrounding county were largely pro-Union, the county became one of the many western municipalities to secede from Virginia in 1863 to form the new state of West Virginia. Afterwards, a struggle emerged in the town between factions seeking to profit from tourism to the springs and those supporting the growth of the area’s manufacturing sector, a dispute ultimately rendered moot with the collapse of local industry during the Great Depression. The core of the original town made its way onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 as the Town of Bath Historic District, which encompasses 218 contributing buildings, three contributing sites, six contributing structures, and one contributing object.