Friday, October 29, 2010

Greenbrier Resort

Greenbrier a Favorite Stop

On a recent trip driving through West Virginia, we came to a beautiful area where the famous Greenbrier hotel and resort is located.

Since it was nearly lunchtime, I asked if anyone was ready to eat, which was answered by all with a resounding, yes! Unbeknown to the others, I called and asked if we needed a reservation to eat in any of their restaurants, and received no as an answer.

In about 25 minutes we departed the interstate at White Sulfur Springs, and headed toward the resort, leaving them in wonderment.

When we finally drove into the entrance of this famous resort, which is one of the largest hotels in the eastern United States, it soon came into view, surprising my wife and friends since we had been in mountainous and rural West Virginia for miles.

The Greenbrier is an award-winning resort located in the Allegheny Mountains and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Greenbrier's classic architecture, exquisite interior design, abundant scenic beauty, and outstanding amenities have hosted distinguished guests from around the world since 1778.

A spring of sulphur water is at the center of the resort property. It issues forth below the green dome of the white-columned springhouse that has been the symbol of The Greenbrier for generations. Mrs. Anderson, a local pioneer, came to follow the local Native American tradition of "taking the waters" to restore her chronic rheumatism and for the first 125 years the resort was known by the name White Sulphur Springs.

The property soon fell into the hands of a prominent Baltimore family, the Calwells. Under the Calwells, the resort would begin to take shape. They sold cottages to prominent Southern individuals, many of which still stand today. Notable guests of the time included Martin van Buren and Henry Clay.

This renowned hotel offers 721 rooms, including exquisite guest and estate houses and more than 50 recreational activities including three championship golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis courts a 40,000-square-foot spa and more.

To many travelers, this property is unknown, which is surprising because of the history and age of this famous hotel. Since I had been here before, a number of years ago, I have spent some time researching its history, and I’m including it below.

In 1857, a hotel was built on the property. This original hotel, The Grand Central Hotel, known by the moniker "The White" and later "The Old White", was torn down in 1922, several years after the addition of the current building. During the Civil War, the property changed hands between the Confederate Army and the Union Army, who almost burned the resort to the ground.

As a Civil War student I found it interesting that at White Sulphur Springs in1870, following the Civil War, the resort reopened. It became a place for many Southerners and Northerners alike to vacation, and the setting for many famous post-war reconciliations, including the White Sulphur Manifesto, which was the only political position issued by Robert E. Lee after the Civil War, that advocated the merging of the two societies. The resort went on to become a center of regional post-war society, especially after the arrival of the railroad.

In 1910, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway purchased the resort property, building additional amenities and The Greenbrier Hotel in 1913. At this time, the name officially changed to The Greenbrier, as the neighboring town adopted the name White Sulphur Springs. During World War II, the resort served both as an army hospital and as a relocation center for some of the Axis diplomats interned as enemies of the United States.

After the war ended, C&O bought back the property from the government and reopened the resort, now redecorated by Dorothy Draper. Its reopening was a social event of the season, attracting such luminaries as the Duke of Windsor with his wife, Wallis Simpson, Bing Crosby, and members of the Kennedy family. In recent history, the resort has hosted several presidents and vice-presidents, foreign dignitaries such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Debbie Reynolds, and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. Twenty-six presidents have been hosted at The Greenbrier. The Presidents' Cottage Museum is a two-story building with exhibits about these visits and the history of The Greenbrier. The building is open seasonally. The last U.S. president to stay at The Greenbrier was Dwight Eisenhower.

On March 20, 2009, the resort filed for bankruptcy, listing debt of up to $500 million and assets of $100 million. The resort lost $166 million in 2008. On May 7, 2009, the Justice family of West Virginia publicly claimed that it had purchased the resort for $20 million. The Justice family, headed by patriarch James Justice, has extensive farm and milling operations in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina including 50,000 acres that it farms through its Justice Family Farms group headquartered in Beckley, West Virginia. In early 2009, it sold its Bluestone Coal Corporation network of West Virginia coal mines to Mechel.

Due to the proximity to Washington DC an interesting development occurred in the late 1950s, when the U.S. government approached The Greenbrier for assistance in creating a secret emergency relocation center to house Congress in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The classified, underground facility, named "Project Greek Island", was built at the same time as the West Virginia Wing, an above-ground addition to the hotel, from 1959 to 1962.

Although the bunker was kept stocked with supplies for 30 years, it was never actually used as an emergency location, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The bunker's existence was not acknowledged until The Washington Post revealed it in a 1992 story; immediately after the Post story, the government decommissioned the bunker. The facility has since been renovated and is also used as a data storage facility for the private sector. It is once again featured as an attraction in which visitors can tour the now declassified facilities, now known as The Bunker. For a fee one can tour it, but due to our time we forfeited it.

This whole area is beautiful and has many stops for a traveler, but one should never be near the Greenbrier without stopping as we did for lunch or to stay in this spacious and beautiful hotel. I will remind you that the accommodation expense far exceeds the Holiday Inn.

Today, extremely expensive homes surround the hotel and resort grounds and are a beautiful tour in itself.

After a tour of the hotel and a sitting to eat a tasty meal, we drove around the grounds before leaving for Virginia to spend the night.

“In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” -- John 14:2 (NKJV)

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