Berkeley Springs is a town in, and the county seat of, Morgan County, West Virginia, United States, in the state's Eastern Panhandle. While the area was part of Virginia (prior to 1861), the town was incorporated as Bath. Since 1802, it has been referred to by the name of its original Virginia post office, Berkeley Springs. The population of the town was 624 at the 2010 United States Census. The town is located within the Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. Berkeley Springs is a sister city to Bath, Somerset, England.
The area contains mineral water springs that were frequented by Amerinds, possibly for thousands of years. After settlement by Europeans, the mineral springs drew many visitors from urban areas. Notable colonial visitors to the area included George Washington and James Rumsey. Berkeley Springs remained a popular resort area during the early years of the United States. It is the home of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, the longest running and largest such event in the world.
The area continues to be a popular resort area with tourism the main industry in the county and four full-service spas using the mineral water. A historic building whose construction began in 1888, was built as a retreat for Rosa and Samuel Taylor Suit, and it overlooks the town (see photograph). It often is called "Berkeley Castle".
Berkeley Springs is a noted arts community with working artists accounting for approximately 1% of the county population of 16,000. Since 1994, the town has been listed by John Villani in all four editions of his "100 Best Art Towns in America", one of only 11 towns so rated.
During colonial times in 1748, George Washington, then just 16 years old, was part of the team that surveyed the Eastern Panhandle region for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. Washington returned several times over the next several years with his half-brother, Lawrence, who was ill, in hopes that the warm springs might improve his health. The springs, and their rumored medicinal benefits, attracted numerous Aboriginal Americans as well as Europeans to the area.
While vacationing in the area in 1767, Washington made note of how busy the colonial town had become. Lord Fairfax had built a summer home there and a "private bath" making the area a popular destination for Virginia's social elite. With the advent of independence, the Virginia State Legislature established a town around the spring in December 1776. Officially, the town was named Bath, in honor of England's spa city of Bath. George Washington, his family members and several of the colonial elite were among the town's first landowners. The town's main north-south street was named Washington and the main east-west street was named Fairfax. Also, four acres were set aside for "suffering humanity." The area around the springs always was public land known as The Grove and overseen by a state-appointed group of Berkeley Springs trustees. This would become a historic park with its springs and bathhouses, which was made part of the West Virginia state park system in 1925. Nearby, Cacapon State Park was opened in 1933. The mountain that gives its name to the park has an elevation of above sea level.
Bath's population increased during and immediately after, the Revolutionary War as wounded soldiers and others came to the area believing that the warm springs had medicinal qualities. Bath gained a reputation then as a somewhat wild town where eating, drinking, dancing, and gambling on the daily horse races were the order of the day.
Chronology of names
In 1772, the springs were part of the newly-formed Berkeley County, named after its colonial governor, Norborne Berkeley. The waters became known as Berkeley Springs because the existing protocol was to name springs after the colonial Virginia county in which they were located. Previously, the area had been called Warm Springs and Medicinal Springs among other names.
Bath became known permanently to the world as Berkeley Springs in 1802 when the Virginia postal system was established in the new nation and there already was a Bath, Virginia in Bath County.
West Virginia became a state following the Wheeling Conventions of 1861, in which 50 northwestern counties of Virginia decided to break away from Virginia during the American Civil War. The new state was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863. Berkeley Springs remained the conventional name used for the town.