indoor pool at the Omni Homestead & Resort in
Hot Springs, Va. boasts a famous user -- president
Franklin Delano Roosevelt swam in it during his stay
at the famous resort. It is filled with natural hot
spring water and chlorine.
SPRINGS, Va. ó "Yep, Iíve seen a lot of
changes," says 88-year-old Virginia Strasser.
has worked behind the scenes at what is now The Omni
Homestead Resort & Spa deep in the Allegheny Mountains
for 62 years. Strasser is one of an exclusive club of
employees who have been on the property for more than half
a century, and she considers the grand old hotel her home.
who visited as children are now bringing their own
children and think of those employees as family.
Pettus, 74, who is the main dining roomís longest
serving maitreíd, is one of five generations of Pettuses
who have worked at The Homestead. It is the consistency of
certain staff members who remember how things used to be
that keeps a sense of continuity going at what some see as
the cradle of Southern hospitality.
first welcomed travelers in 1766 as an 18-room hostelry.
The founder, Capt. Thomas Bullett, died in the
Revolutionary War. His family continued operating the
place until Dr. Thomas Goode purchased it in 1832. He
promoted the value of the hot springs and "taking the
water" as a cure for a host of ailments and installed
pipes to divert the hot spring water to pools.
Georgian-style resort, roughly 250 miles from Pittsburgh,
was acquired by the Omni group last year. It sits on the
sacred hunting grounds of the Shawnee tribe, but it is
named after the homesteaders who settled the region and
helped to build it.
of the modern-day perks of a stay at The Homestead is the
daily tour conducted by historian Keene Byrd. After Goode
died, he says, some investors, including M.E. Ingalls and
J.P. Morgan, took it over. That was in the early 1880s.
fire in 1901 destroyed the hotel, but the Casino Building
built in 1895 was spared and still stands. Once used for
sports, it is now the pro shop for tennis and golf and a
popular lunch spot. Also saved from the flames were the
cottages on cottage row and the spa. Rebuilding commenced
immediately, and by 1902 the great hall as it is known
today was completed.
the East and West wings were finished in 1914. Three years
earlier Ingalls had become the sole owner of the hotel and
the first of four generations to run The Homestead. In a
stroke of bad timing the iconic clock tower was completed
in 1929 just as the stock market crashed. Still, for more
than two centuries The Homestead has withstood disaster
and economic decline.
remember when the children ate in the Childrenís Dining
Room, which was off the main dining room," recalls
Pettus. Parents would eat and dance to the live band free
from parental duties at least while dining. "Then
there were the Tray Dances," he says, smiling.
"It was in the Crystal Room and these guys, Norman
Lacy was one, would dance with trays piled high with
candles, plates, coffee pots and glasses on top of their
heads. It was something," he notes.
Bryan, who has been at The Homestead for 42 years, chimes
in with, "They also had the tray races on the Casino
lawn." That started in the 1940s and continued until
had to stop because of the betting," he said. A lot
of things have changed since the days of "butter
girls" and "tray dances," but the old
ambiance still hangs on even with modern amusements such
as the addition of a water park with slides and a lazy
river and a miniature golf course.
Cauley, the shooting instructor who ran the Gun Club until
1992, worked at The Homestead for 60 years and remembers
shooting with the Ingalls family. "In those days it
was all families, and people would come and stay for at
least two weeks. Now we have more conventions, but then
those people come back with their families."
Homestead is old-school, family, traditional,"
explains Travis Braxton Jr., activities supervisor.
Croquet, tennis, archery, archery tag, paint ball,
canoeing, shooting, riding, hiking and, of course, golf.
There are two world-class courses at The Homestead; the
Cascades and the Old Course, which has the oldest
continuous-use tee box in the United States and has never
been altered. Sam Snead said the greens on the 18th hole
rolled truer than anywhere he ever played. The winter
options include skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, ice skating
makes The Homestead special are the spring waters ó
naturally heated to a soothing 104-degrees Fahrenheit ó
that Native Americans believed had healing powers. Thomas
Jefferson came in 1819 to take the cure for his rheumatism
and stayed for 22 days. Others who followed included
Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Woodrow Wilson,
Dwight Eisenhower, William Taft, James Madison and James
McKinley. Twenty-two sitting presidents, various
dignitaries, captains of commerce and royalty have all
visited The Homestead.
Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed 30 days, but he had a
habit of leaving without paying his bill. He tried to slip
away and stiff the hotel, but Fay Ingalls would have none
of it. He chased after him, boarded the Windsorsí
private train car and presented him with the bill. It was
the duchess who paid.
the early 1900s, The Homestead was part of the
"springs circuit," a route traveled by affluent
people from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.,
who also enjoyed the waters at The Greenbrier in White
Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and Bedford Springs in Bedford,
World War II the U.S. government asked The Homestead to
serve as an internment center for 363 Japanese diplomats,
businessmen, press and others. They were held for a year
European-style spa and spa garden includes the hot spring
that Jefferson soaked in, as well as, a small lap pool.
The famous indoor pool, which is filled with chlorinated
spring water, is much the same as it was when then-New
York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a dip with Fay
Ingalls, the hotelís owner at the time. They were polar
opposites politically, but Ingalls was a gracious host.
Modern-day amenities have been added, such as the Aqua
Thermal Suite and a range of luxurious spa and anti-aging
the day is done there are several dining options. The main
dining room is more formal (no jeans or spandex allowed),
where such dishes as freshly caught Allegheny Mountain
trout and Chateaubriand of Beef are served. The casual set
can head to Sam Sneadís Tavern in town or the more
upscale Jeffersonís Restaurant and Bar in the hotel (Donít
miss the deep-fried meatballs). The Lobby Bar offers
cocktails and conversation.
STORY CAN END HERE)
historic hotel has its stories of mysterious spirits
ago a guy in housekeeping said he saw what looked like a
7-foot-tall bellman," says Todd Rice, the front desk
agent. "We have had several people who work here see
things or hear things."
more recent encounter: "A month and a half ago a
fellow checked in to room 1210," he said. "He
came back and said a woman was in the bed, so we sent
someone up with him, and there was no one in the bed. It
was perfectly made," he says. "Itís funny some
people come and want to be checked into a room with a
not the ghosts leaving fingerprints all over the brass in
the elevators, which is something that would have Fay
Ingalls rolling over in his grave. But some refreshing and
a little brass polish should have the place looking like
the antebellum queen it truly is.
The Omni Homestead Resort & Spa, 7696 Sam Snead
Highway, Hot Springs, Va., 24445. 1-540-839-1766;
www.omnihotels.com or www.thehomestead.com
The 2,000-acre resort, a National Historic Landmark,
offers 483 rooms. All have been modernized to include
Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Rates start at$180 and B&B
rates start at $224. Resort fees and taxes are additional.
far: The Homestead is approximately a five-hour drive from