September 18, 2008

Jefferson Pools to Be Restored / Experts Will Decide How Best to Renovate Homestead Buildings

By S

The historic Jefferson Pools - where Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee and tens of thousands of ordinary Virginians soaked away their aches and pains - will soon be restored. The aging structures surrounding the two pools need it. Paint is flaking off the bathhouses built around the natural pools of warm mineral water. Some of the board-and-batten siding is rotten. The roof has loose and rotten wood shakes. The structural integrity of the buildings needs to be checked - one bathhouse appears to lean.

The Homestead resort, which owns the pools in Bath County, plans to carefully renovate the two historic structures that appear much as they did when they were originally built. The bathhouse for men was built in 1761; the one for women was built in 1836.

"They're historic buildings," said Sean Maddock, vice president and general manager for The Homestead. "We're trying to be very, very careful in how we handle them. We want to do this very carefully and bring in the experts."

The resort hotel in nearby Hot Springs hired Celebration Associates, a Hot Springs-based development group, to plan the renovations.

"Celebration Associates has a history of preserving special landscapes and historic places," Maddock said, "so we decided to take advantage of their expertise... to see if we could work together to preserve the pools while still keeping them open to our guests."

Don Killoren, a partner in Celebration Associates, said, "We're really in a research phase right now. We want to know what it all looked like when it was started. What were the buildings originally like?"

Like any historical renovation, the question is how to determine to what year the bathhouses should be restored.

"Do we take it back to the beginning or to 100 years ago? It's a complicated question," Killoren said.

Killoren said he is hiring architects and other specialists to study how to best begin the renovations.

The pools inside the bathhouses are about 120 feet in circumference, and each holds 40,000 gallons of constantly flowing, clear mineral spring water - with a bluish tinge from the minerals. The Jefferson Pools are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a Virginia Historic Landmark.

The men's bathhouse is considered the oldest spa structure in the country. Jefferson arrived to "take the waters'' here in 1818 at the age of 75. He was suffering from what he described as rheumatism and stayed for three weeks, soaking several times a day.

The constant temperature of 98 degrees and the unique mineral content of the springs are supposed to provide a natural remedy to whatever ails the body and spirit.

In a letter dated Aug. 14, 1818, to his daughter Martha, Jefferson spread the reputation of the therapeutic natural mineral spring waters, describing them as pools "of the first merit."

"We want to polish the diamonds in the rough that they are," Maddock said of the bathhouses. "But we also want to keep them rustic and authentic."

- Contact Carlos Santos at (434) 295-9542 or [email protected]


Originally published by SANTOS; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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