The grand spa/sanatorium/resort emerged in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. Accounts of hygienic retreats from Mary J. Windle’s 1857 description of Life at the White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia to Thomas Mann’s powerful evocation of a Swiss sanatorium in Magic Mountain indicate something of the social force of these formidable retreats. They were large, luxurious, distant and elevated. The height and remoteness of the site facilitated a sense of being removed from the routines of daily life and lifted above them. Time, affected by distance, also shifted its rhythms and responsibilities. Guests and patients settled in for weeks or even months. Routines were transformed. Rather than being determined by obligations to the outside, to the home or the business, habits were generated by the self. The body and its rhythms—what it took in, what it discharged, how it was rested and how it was exercised—were the subject of regulation and source of conversation.
Many of the great spas of the pre-World War I epoch survive. Their originating function has not. Wellness depends now on pharmaceuticals, not cleansing. Built for purposes of health and hygiene, these spas now are refurbished as entertainment. The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs Virginia offers an example of such repurposing. Since the mid 18th c., accommodation was available at Hot Springs for those wishing to drink and to bath in the mineral waters there. The present impressive Neo-Georgian main building with its grand Ionic porch was built by Elzner and Anderson of Cincinnati in 1901. Diagonal extensions to the East and West wings of the core were introduced in 1914. An impressive tower, added by Warren and Wetmore of New York in 1929, contributes to the engaging asymmetry of the façade. Embraced by the mighty East and West wings of the hotel is a generous lawn bordered two late 19th c. buildings: the Casino golf club and restaurant and the indoor pool and spa. The lawn is quaintly adorned with white gazebos, marking the locations of the mineral springs where earlier guests would gather to drink their doses of sulphur water. Happily well-hidden is the Brutalist addition of guest rooms and conference spaces added to the south of the hotel in 1973.
The magnificent building complex, perfectly landscaped and framed by mountains, appears unchanged in its sprawling gentility. The interiors of the principal interior spaces equally suggest another epoch: the entrance hall with its Corinthian colonnades, the main dining room in its Ionic elegance, the apse-ended indoor pool lighted by arched windows and covered with open coffers. The secondary spaces and guest accommodations of the older parts of the hotel as well as their furnishings and lighting, unfortunately, also seem to come from an earlier era. The rooms of our “Luxury Landmark Suite” were generous in their height and floor space, but comfortably shabby in their accouterments. The mattresses were, nevertheless, excellent.
The architecture of the Omni Homestead retains its originating promise of relaxed opulence. But society and the corporation conspire to frustrate that promise. Highways get us to the site in hours rather than days—there is no time to slough off one world in preparation for another. No guest, apparently, comes for the season; vacations are parceled out in weekends. The pressure is on even before you arrive, via email, recommending that you engage the hotel’s vacation planner to make the most of your visit. And despite the $160-a-day resort fee added to the room bill, it seemed as though everything except the afternoon tea served in the main hall, the swimming pool, weight room, internet and view involved a substantial increment in the reckoning. The resort fee made the place feel a little bit like Las Vegas as did the children’s electronically cacophonous game room. But take the six-mile trip to the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, now owned by the Omni Homestead. The octagonal Men’s Pool, built in 1761, is the oldest surviving bathing structure in the country. The Women’s Pool was added early in the nineteenth century. The unadulterated affect of history bubbles up around you in the crystal clear hot waters of the primitive bath house. Momentarily at least your attention is diverted from the daily scramble of obligations and focuses on the effects of nature on your body. The new General Manager of the Omni Homestead, David Jurcak, is apparently now working with the Friends of the Pools to save them from further decay. Hopefully the site’s unpretentious, un-Disney-like character, as well as its architecture, will be preserved.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Open since 1766, The Omni Homestead is one of America's most storied resorts, offering unparalleled hospitality and southern charm in a 2,000-acre setting within the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Renowned for its natural hot springs, The Homestead is distinguished by 483 luxurious guest rooms and suites, 72,000 square feet of meeting space, a wide array of fine and casual dining choices, an expansive spa, championship golf courses that include one of the nation's finest mountain courses (The Cascades), Allegheny Springs, a two-acre family-friendly water attraction complete with lazy river, water slides and water play zone. The resort also offers the South's first downhill ski area, an Equestrian Center, top-rated Shooting Club, archery, canoeing, falconry, Segway tours and a wealth of other recreational attractions. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Homestead Hotel Hot Springs
- Homestead Hotel Hot Springs
- Homestead Va
- Homestead Hot Springs Virginia
- Homestead Hot Springs Va
- Homestead Resort Hot Springs