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Berkeley Springs, the county seat of Morgan County, was originally called Bath, after the English resort city of the same name, but in the early 1800s the post office name was changed to Berkeley Springs. The town in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia still answers to both names, however, and the official name remains Bath.

The namesake mineral springs are five in number, the most prominent being the Fairfax Spring and the Gentlemen’s Spring. They are thermal springs, flowing at a constant 69.8 degrees F. Their reputed healing powers have made Berkeley Springs long popular as a health spa.

Berkeley Springs was established as a town under the name of Bath by the Virginia House of Burgesses on December 6, 1776, after the sixth Lord Fairfax deeded to Virginia 50 acres surrounding the springs. George Washington was among those to purchase property at Berkeley Springs, and the main thoroughfare is named for him. During the Revolutionary War, the town served as a haven for families and fighters, as well as the wounded. After the war, Berkeley Springs prospered as a resort. Many prominent figures, including steamboat inventor James Rumsey, bought property in the area. Rumsey also oversaw construction of spa buildings. Gen. Horatio Gates and Samuel and William Washington were among other property owners. During the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson based his forces in Berkeley Springs during an 1862 attack on Hancock, Maryland, just 10 miles to the north.

Berkeley Springs has been subjected to numerous fires over the years. In 1844, most of the buildings on the city’s main street burned down. Also destroyed by fire were the St. Elmo Hotel (1890), Berkeley Springs Hotel (1898), Fairfax Inn (1901), and Palace Theater (1925). In 1974, a fire that started in the Washington Hotel killed 12, the second deadliest fire in West Virginia history. On August 8, 2006, the Morgan County Courthouse burned down. A new one opened in 2010.

The major industries in Berkeley Springs today are tourism, schools and education, sand mining, furniture manufacturing, and arts and crafts, in roughly that order. In the 19th century, there was a tannery in Berkeley Springs, an aggravation to those in the business of entertaining the town’s paying visitors. The Country Inn was constructed in 1932, and is still a mainstay of local tourism. Since 1974, the Apple Butter Festival has drawn in thousands of visitors each fall. Berkeley Springs State Park preserves some of the older sites and features of the town’s heyday as a resort town. Each year, the town hosts the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting contest.

The Town of Bath Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. In 2020, the town had a population of 758, more than a 21 percent increase in 10 years.

Read the National Register nomination.

This Article was written by Stephanie Earls

Last Revised on December 20, 2023

Cite This Article

Earls, Stephanie "Berkeley Springs." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 December 2023. Web. 24 June 2024.


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