A work colleague went to a convention at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and he couldn’t stop singing its praises. He loved the old-world-charm of the place which was established over 200 years before to accommodate people who came to “take the waters” of the White Sulphur Springs. It became a gathering place for early America’s influential families. People were going there before the Civil War, it is steeped in American History and you could say it grew up alongside the United States.
I told my friends about it and Marlise also thought it would be fun to go there for a weekend. It is 450-500 miles by car from New York depending on the route you take, driving in a westerly direction first, then south. We opted instead to fly from Newark, New Jersey to Lewisburg, West Virginia which takes 1¾ hours going southwest, more or less ‘as the crow flies’.
Off we went on a hot summer day. Our plane, a 20-seat turboprop wasn’t full so we were directed to sit in specific seats to distribute the weight in the cabin. It being a short-haul flight we flew at a lower altitude and slower cruising speed than jet planes on long-haul flights. En route we were unnerved to see fog swirling in through the air vents but the Attendant assured us that it was just water vapour which causes no harm to the passengers or the plane. It was the result of us leaving the hot, humid air of Newark, meeting the cold air at high altitude and the air conditioning working to keep the cabin air dry. It soon evaporated and we settled down, except for one or two nervous fliers.
To the east of our flight path was Philadelphia, Atlantic City and the New Jersey Shore, Baltimore, Delaware, Chesapeake Bay, Washington D.C. and Virginia. We flew over forests, Allegheny Mountains (part of the Appalachian range) and valleys. West Virginia is called the Mountain State.
We checked in and then went to luxuriate in The Greenbrier Resort’s famous old-world-charm. There was a dress code for every activity so you could be changing your clothes several times a day. On the other hand, you could dress once and only go to the events you were dressed for. If you were dressed for tennis, golf or horseback riding you could only use certain elevators that went to a basement lobby to go out to the grounds. It was the 1980s but I suppose it wouldn’t do for genteel people to see rugged people in athletic wear in the elegant spaces.
We pulled ourselves together, donned our tea dresses and swanned into the Upper Lobby at 4:15pm, Tea Time Down South. We didn’t have our bonnets with us but it is good to know that bonnets are always in style there for ladies. A few women wore hats or ‘fascinators’. Men’s headwear was forbidden. We didn’t notice any single men sipping tea; they may not see the point of it. We might have better luck on the tennis courts; we thought!
The rhododendron is West Virginia’s state flower and that image was used for decoration on wallpaper, drapes, upholstery and dishes.
We played tennis, went horseback riding with a group on miles of trails where we had great views of mountain peaks, valleys, rivers and lakes. More experienced riders could get up to Kate’s Mountain Peak. There is a story that Kate and her child escaped an attack by Native Americans in which her husband was killed. The British and French were both supported by different Tribes while fighting the revolutionary war at the time. The Mystic Circle of Kate’s Mountain is a romantic poem of many verses that was inspired by her story.
Around the Sulphur Springs the odour was not pleasant. However, since a sulphur soak was a specialty of the resort and was said to be beneficial we had to try it. A soak lasted 20 minutes in a bathtub in a private room. For your skin to get the most benefit from the minerals in the soak it was recommended to wait a couple of hours before washing them off in a fresh shower.
The American Government took possession of The Greenbrier at times. During the Civil War years 1861/6 it was used as a hospital or military headquarters; the grounds were occupied by both sides. When America entered WW11 hundreds of German, Japanese and Italian diplomatic family members were housed there until their exchange for U.S. diplomats overseas could be completed. In 1942 it was converted into a hospital where over 24,000 soldiers were operated on and rehabilitated. In the 1950s Cold War years a bunker/bomb shelter was built 720 feet into the hillside under The Greenbrier for the U.S. Congress to move to in case of war. It was top secret until 1992 when The Washington Post exposed it in an article, “The Last Resort”.
Before going back home we toured around the area and visited an Arts & Crafts Fair where I bought a tie-dyed silk scarf and a two ended doll. One end was dressed as a pretty young girl and the other was a pretty kitchen witch. I never saw a doll like that before but now I know about the Topsy Turvy dolls based on the same idea. It is said that the two dolls in one idea may have originated in American plantation nurseries in the 1800s where one end was a black face and the other end was a white face. The skirt flips over to conceal one body when the other it upright.
I looked at some of the demographics in the 2020 Census for the State of West Virginia:
Ancestry – English 16%, German 15%, Irish 13%
Race and ethnicity – The vast majority of the people are white. Black, African American and people who are of two or more races make up the next largest group. There are Asians. American Indians and Alaskan natives are combined in the census data.
Poverty – is 18% vs. 12.6% for total US population. Persistent racism has led to persistent racial inequality. Blacks are twice as likely to be living in poverty, face higher unemployment rates and black households have only 70% of the income of white households.
West Virginia’s official song is Take me Home Country Roads. The musical roots that early settlers from European and African countries brought together have developed into the distinct Appalachian Sound. Among the instruments played to produce that distinct sound are: spoons, banjos, washboard and mandolin. Today the sounds can be heard in ballad singing, bluegrass, blues, country music, gospel, mountain swing and old time styles.