George Washington's Bathtub Monument
The city of Berkeley Springs, as it name implies, is situated atop hot springs that have contributed to the popularity of the area. In fact, America's first President and Founding Father, George Washington, was a frequent connoisseur of the springs in order to bathe and benefit from their healing properties. This monument is apparently the only outdoor monument that pays tribute to Presidential bathing practices. The "bathtub" is located inside Berkeley Springs State Park and is bordered by a stone wall affixed with a sign that states "George Washington Bath Tub 1748."
Backstory and Context
At 16, George Washington was an assistant to a surveyor, and their group was responsible for surveying Thomas Lord Fairfax's land, to determine suitable western boundaries for his land1. The band of men decided to sleepover at the property and Washington had time to visit the springs. In his diary, he records that: "March 18th, 1748, We this day called to see Ye Fam'd Warm Springs1." Washington would visit the springs by himself and with his family within the next four decades to bathe and health from ailments. We know for certain, in addition to other visits from his personal writings, that he visited in 1761 from his letter to Rev. Charles Green on August 26th:
We found of both sexes about 250 people at this place, full of all manner of diseases and complaints; some of which are benefited, while others find no relief from the waters two of three doctors are here, but whether attending as physicians or to drink the water I know not. It is thought the springs will soon begin to lose their virtues, and the weather gets too cold for people not well provided to remain here. They are situated very badly on the east side of a steep mountain, and enclosed by hills on all sides, so that the afternoon's sun is hid by 4 o'clock and the fog hangs over us till 9 or 10, like ghosts with occasional great damps and the mornings and the evenings to be cool2.When Washington and his contemporaries bathed or relaxed in this springs, the tubs were constructed from stone trenches with sand and stone lined bottoms3. Modesty and privacy were important social norms, and so woven screens were put up in front of the baths to prevent impropriety and give bathers privacy, as well as designated times for bathers of the opposite sex3.
However, I think my fevers are a good deal abated, though my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep equally disturbed; what effect the waters may have upon me I cannot say at present, as I expect nothing from the air this certainly must be unhealthy. I propose to stay here a fortnight and longer if benefited2
In 1776, Lord Fairfax gave 50 acres of his land as well as the right to the hot springs to the Colony of Virginia. The land was put up for sale and prominent people like, "George Washington, three signers of the Declaration of Independence, four signers of the Constitution, seven members of the Continental Congress, and five Revolutionary generals" were some of the first buyers of the land1 Although 1776 was prolific time for our country as a whole, Berkely Springs, the city of "Bath" as it would newly be named this year by the General Assembly of Virginia, would be transformed into a spa retreat by James Rumsey, famous for creating the first working steamboat, who would build five bath houses and other buildings on the land1. After the facilities were built, Washington tapped Rumsey to build a house for him in Bath4.
Today, the weekend before March 18th, in order to commemorate Washington's first visit, there is a George Washington's Bathtub Celebration. During the celebration, visitors can attend a reading of a selection of George Washington's papers, and listen to music5. The monument is also one of the stops on the Washington Heritage Trail that stretches across Berkeley, Morgan, and Jefferson Counties, to retrace President Washington's path.