by Kurt Jacobson
The lush green hardwood forests conspire to hide this once famous mountain resort. The winding mountain roads also try their best to dissuade visitors from coming. But the tales of possibly the best summer vacation still leak out and occasionally spur exploration of Capon Springs.
A long history tells the story of this area once frequented by Indian tribes. Capon Spring’s name is thought to be of Shawnee origin. The water from the spring seemed to hold magical properties and could heal the sick. After the white man claimed America, it was only a matter of time before this clear mountain spring, and its gorgeous hollow would be discovered.
Around 1765, Henry Frye is the lucky white man credited as the discoverer of Capon Springs. If local folklore is correct, Mr. Frye found the springs while hunting in the area. When he became thirsty and searched for water, he came upon the springs thus setting in place more than two centuries of modern resort history. Mr. Fryes built a cabin on the property the next summer where he and his wife Fanny lived. She was ill at the time but drinking the spring water seemed to improve her health.
By an act of the State of Virginia in 1787, (West Virginia hadn’t been founded yet), twenty acres of land was platted as the town of Watson that included the springs. Named after Joesph Watson, the most recent owner, Capon Springs was taking shape. The spring’s water was quickly becoming known for the healing properties, and by 1833 the area had become a popular recreation destination.
In 1849 a Baltimore firm purchased several lots by the springs to build a grand hotel. There had already been a pool, bathing house, and spring pavilion on site. All that was needed to complete the resort was a large hotel. Named the Mountain House, this grand hotel was built in 1850 and measured 262 feet by 190 feet and had over 160 guest rooms. The famous orator and statesman Daniel Webster delivered the dedication speech. The resort thrived for decades and had changed hands several times until in 1923 Louis Austin entered the picture.
Louis was distributing the Capon Springs water that had become famous in many parts of the East Coast. Long before the bottled water craze of the 1990s that persist to this day, Capon Springs water was in thousands of households. Louis seized the opportunity to buy the Capon Springs Water Company in July of 1932 when it was sold after bankruptcy proceedings. This purchase included the Spring, several hundred acres, and the buildings. Most of the buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair and needed considerable work.
Fast-forward to today, and we find the third generation of the Austin family running the resort. The latest version of Capon Springs is a family-friendly environment that coaxes guests to unplug and enjoy. There is Wi-Fi available in the Meeting House, but most guests enjoy swimming, hiking, spa treatments, three kinds of golf ( regular, hickory, fling-golf), soaking in the Roman-style baths, tennis, shuffleboard, and more. To maintain the family-friendly environment, they have two rules. Alcohol is not sold on site and is allowed only in guest rooms and porches. They have an 11 pm quiet-time, so everyone gets a good night’s rest.
Numerous lodging choices are on offer. Although the original grand hotel- The Mountain House burned down long ago, several attractive rooms options are available. The Pavilion is the oldest of the more spacious room options. These simple rooms built in the late 1800s, offer a look into the past and put guests close to the swimming pool. The back porches provide a close-up view of the gurgling creek and occasion frog songs. Fourteen other room and cottage options make sure you will find the right room.
Capon Springs is all-inclusive. The only extras you will pay for are massage treatments and golf fees. The food is excellent and plenty. Capon Springs carries on the tradition of raising much of their own food on site or nearby. This excerpt from the Capon Springs website relates this tradition:
In the 1940s, Capon’s farms provided nearly all the resort needed – from fresh vegetables to turkeys to sausage to eggs and most everything in-between. (Of course, back then we had much fewer guests, too!) In our ever-changing world, Capon’s farms have had to evolve. Now, although not producing the number of food items Capon once did when farm workers were readily available and regulations were few, the direction of the Farm has shifted to one of being a sustainable, eco-friendly and low impact (small footprint).
On Steak night guests enjoy filet mignon from beef raised on their farm. Eggs at breakfast are from their farms as well as most pork products. The quality and the quantity of Capon Springs meals keep guests young and old raving how good the dining experiences are. I thought the blueberry pie was as good as my mom’s and she was a fantastic pie baker and could barely resist not having a second piece. Guests are invited on farm tours and hayrides to see where the pigs, chickens, and cows are kept in their animal-friendly quarters.
Events all season long invite guests to participate in sporting events, dancing, singing, history tours, bingo, flag raising and lowering talent shows, and hayrides. These and other aspects of staying at Capon Springs must be working for them as much as 75% of each season’s guests are repeat visitors. Several families have been coming every year for over 50 years! Because of this repeat business, Capon Springs doesn’t have to advertise a lot and explains why many travelers haven’t heard about this West Virginia Shangri la.
Rates are quite affordable. During the off-season specials, as-low-as $99 are sometimes offered, and if you are traveling solo you won’t pay a supplemental fee. Add to all of this the ability to take home as much of the healing water you desire for free, it adds up to a reasonably priced vacation. They are typically open May through October with some slight variations. Check their website to book your next family getaway in West Virginia’s hidden gem.
All photos by Kurt Jacobson