Capon Springs Resort, and associated farms, is a 5,000-acre retreat near the community of Capon Springs in Hampshire County. Managed by the same family since 1932, the resort is ‘‘one of the best-preserved 19th-century spring resorts in the state,’’ according to research nominating it to the National Register of Historic Places.
Word spread about the reputed healing powers of the mineral waters of Capon Springs as early as the 1700s. In 1849, Baltimore investors bought several hundred acres and built the 500-room Mountain House at Capon Springs. After the Civil War, former Confederate Capt. William H. Sale took over and began a major expansion. He oversaw construction of several large guest houses, including the Annex, now the resort’s main house.
After Sale died in 1900, the resort began to stagnate. A 1911 fire destroyed the Mountain House, along with several nearby buildings. The 320-acre retreat was auctioned in 1932 and purchased by Lou Austin, a devout and visionary Philadelphia entrepreneur who foresaw a prosperous industry in bottling Capon Springs water. Lou’s wife, Virginia, threw herself into managing the floundering resort. The bottling business was abandoned after 1959, when Lou retired, although the water remains available free of charge at fountains and faucets.
A loan from the Romney banker and former West Virginia governor, John Cornwell, allowed the Austins to extend plumbing and electricity throughout the resort by 1938. Local workers were hired to build a new kitchen and dining room, where family-style meals are still served, and to renovate other buildings. A nine-hole golf course, fish pond, swimming pool, and additional guest cottages were also added. During World War II, dignitaries and military officials vacationed from nearby Washington, contributing to the resort’s biggest boom. By the 1950s, Lou Austin had added several thousand acres of farm and grazing land to the estate to provide food for the roughly 200 guests the facility could now house.
As the Austins aged, their three oldest children gradually took over. Lou Austin died in 1976; Virginia followed him six years later. The third generation took charge in 1988, still holding to their grandfather’s ideals of simplicity, informality, respect, and religion.
Doors have no locks at Capon Springs, as guests follow the ‘‘Capon Way,’’ an unspoken agreement of mutual trust. There are no telephones or televisions in any of the guest rooms. The resort offers traditional pastimes such as golf, tennis, croquet, badminton, and shuffleboard. A dinner bell calls guests to the dining room for three meals a day, and the 11 p.m. curfew is strictly enforced. Capon Springs water is served at every meal and is poured into the pool and baths at the spa.
Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination.
This Article was written by Stephanie Earls
Last Revised on August 20, 2013
Wirtz, W. Capon Valley Sampler. Silver Spring, MD: Bartleby Press, 1990.
Earls, Stephanie. A King-Sized Reunion: Capon Springs Resort. Goldenseal, (Spring 1997).
Cite This Article
Earls, Stephanie "Capon Springs Resort." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 August 2013. Web. 24 October 2014.