When it was built in 1761, Jefferson Pools was a “gentlemen’s” bathhouse, uniquely built in an octagonal shape with a large hole in the roof to let the steam out. The women’s bathhouse next door came several decades later in the same fashion. Today, the original structures still stand, beautiful yet in a sad state of advanced decay.
The bathhouses were built over the year-round 98-degree natural pools in the aptly named Warm Springs, Virginia. The waters flow at a rate of 1,700,000 gallons per day.
These magnificent crystal springs were discovered centuries ago by Native Americans journeying through the valley. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have been in the area for at least 9,000 years. According to Native American stories, people were instantly rejuvenated after bathing in the warm waters of the spring, and it was considered a sacred place.
Soon after, spa houses began being built throughout the 16th century following the European style. These spa houses become even more popular in the following century in places where wealthy southerners would “take the waters” for relaxation.
But it was the healing promises of the mineral-rich waters that brought Thomas Jefferson to the pools, where he soaked daily for three weeks to try and help his rheumatism. It’s ironic that the pools were named after him, though, as local historians claimed he found the spa quite boring.
Boring or not, the Jefferson Pools are still flowing today. The original wood structure of the bathhouses has fallen victim to the elements for over the last 250 years, however, and the physical surroundings are in quite obvious decline. But an organization is working to preserve this rotting wonder, so guests can bathe in the warm springs just as Thomas Jefferson did decades ago.
Update: As of October 2017, The Jefferson Pools are temporarily closed for restoration. The Omni Homestead Resort and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources are working to repair and renovate the pools while maintaining their historic character.
Know Before You Go
Warm Springs, Virginia is in western Virginia, close to West Virginia. Take Route 220 north from I-64, about 30 miles. The bathhouses can be seen right next to the road as Mountain Valley Road (Rt 39) joins Sam Snead Highway (Rt 220). The site is now managed by the Omni Homestead Resort, 5 miles to the south, so you must call ahead to make a reservation--the resort's website has ample information.There are coed bathing times, where families with kids may use either the men's or women's (larger of the two) pools. Later in the day the schedule switches to adults-only, and this is also a clothing-optional time, where the sexes are segregated to their respective bath houses. You get a site-supplied towel, and the attendant will even give you a plastic bag to put your wet swimsuit into.