A Trip to the Water Cure

I just got back from my first water cure.

The Greenbrier Resort is a period film brought to life

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really a water cure of yore, but the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, began as a resort for people seeking the healing power of the sulphur water that bubbled up from its mountainous ground. People first began coming in 1778, and the visitors only increased in the 19th century as people drank and bathed in hopes of curing everything from headaches to arthritis. All of this water bubbles up from a green-domed, white-columned spring house to the side of the main resort. On top is a statue of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health and medicine. The spa still uses water from the spring house, though, most people probably think of it as spa rather than a medical facility these days.

Presidents came to the Greenbrier. Lawyers, bankers, and others hoping to escape the summer heat came, too. The construction of the large main hotel in 1858 made the White Sulphur Springs not only a place of healing but also the place to be seen for social elites. That seemed about right. Hydropathic institutes attracted many people who were just looking for a break from the city. They tended to be built in beautiful places (West Virginia is gorgeous) and to offer outdoor activities to relax and rejuvenate.

I was there to attend the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, a multiday extravaganza of great food and great food talk. I met some fantastic and talented people many of who (and many of them are already) are sure to be famous. I’ll be sure to remember that I knew them when.

Today, a visit is like a step back in time–and for me, a step into another social class. Famed decorator Dorothy Draper redid the place in outsize florals, massive colored stripes, and bright colors after World War II (I should have taken more pictures. Heidi Swanson of 101Cookbooks took some nice ones). Everything you could ever need is taken care of as employees swirl around you in the lobby and at every meal. Afternoon tea brought live piano music and a well-dressed couple dancing in the lobby before tea sandwiches and cookies were brought out on silver trays carried high above the heads of the servers. It was a little like stepping into the “Be Our Guest” number from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Wow, look at the wallpaper. Our curtains were the same pattern and even the ceiling was wallpapered.

It’s also probably the closest you can get to the hydropathic experience of the past. A well-appointed resort attracting people from all over the country to take in the fresh air, exercise, and of course, as much of that healing water as you could handle.  

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