2011-12-08 / Top News

Will Bath history be saved?

By Mike Bollinger • Staff Writer


When this photo was taken nearly five years ago, the Jefferson Pools were already in need of some structural attention, though the roof was intact. After years of asking The Homestead, which owns the historic landmark, to save the pools, a group of Bath County residents and others interested in renovations, has come together to step up that effort. (Recorder file photo) When this photo was taken nearly five years ago, the Jefferson Pools were already in need of some structural attention, though the roof was intact. After years of asking The Homestead, which owns the historic landmark, to save the pools, a group of Bath County residents and others interested in renovations, has come together to step up that effort. (Recorder file photo) WARM SPRINGS — A group of people concerned about the future of the bathhouses at the Jefferson Pools has come together in an effort to save the historic structures.

The Friends of the Jefferson Pools has been meeting informally for about six months and held its first open meeting last Thursday at the Bath County Library.

Phil Deemer of Hot Springs, who led much of the discussion, called the group “loosely organized” at this point. “We are finding our way through the forest to hopefully get the results we want. We want to celebrate the Jefferson Pools and do the best we can to restore them,” Deemer said.


Phil Deemer, left, leads the discussion during a meeting of the Friends of the Jefferson Pools held last Thursday at the Bath County library. The group hopes for restoration and repairs to the bathhouses. Below: About 20 people attended the meeting to learn more about what can be done to save the landmark. (Recorder photos by Mike Bollinger) Phil Deemer, left, leads the discussion during a meeting of the Friends of the Jefferson Pools held last Thursday at the Bath County library. The group hopes for restoration and repairs to the bathhouses. Below: About 20 people attended the meeting to learn more about what can be done to save the landmark. (Recorder photos by Mike Bollinger) Some involved have been communicating with representatives of Preservation Virginia, a private nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Virginia’s cultural, architectural and historic heritage. Preservation Virginia has offered its services to help work toward restoring and repairing the bathhouses, and the local group decided last Thursday to accept its assistance.

They reached a consensus to ask Preservation Virginia to reach out to KSL Resorts, owner of The Homestead and the pools, offering to conduct a historic structure report. Friends of the Jefferson Pools members agreed they would be willing to pay for that report, in which an expert would look at the bathhouses and determine what needs to be done to restore and repair them.

After the report is compiled, the local group would then approach KSL to see what the next step would be. “Everybody knows (the bathhouses) are suffering. What we don’t know is what all is wrong,” Deemer said. “Somebody needs to look at them and say, ‘This is what we need to do.’ An expert needs to look at them and say what’s wrong.”

Deemer said there are different opinions on how the restoration should be accomplished, but agreement that the structures should be kept as close to original as possible. “We know no one wants vinyl siding on them,” he said.


Shingles that were loose or missing, as shown in this 2008 photo, were replaced this year by The Homestead. (Recorder file photo) Shingles that were loose or missing, as shown in this 2008 photo, were replaced this year by The Homestead. (Recorder file photo) Preservation Virginia, Deemer said, would take pledges on behalf of Friends of the Jefferson Pools to pay for the report, which would cost between $10,000 and $50,000.

Bill Jones of Warm Springs emphasized the pools are owned by KSL, a private corporation. “The owner can do what they want with them,” he said.

Jones said the group wants to work with KSL and The Homestead to restore the bathhouses. “A lot of people come here to go to those pools, and there are a lot of people in the community who are interested in this. We have been trying to think of ways to work with the hotel on this. There are tax incentives available to do the repairs,” he said.

Tax incentives are also available, Jones said, if KSL turns the pools over to a non-profit organization.

In April, Peter Faraone, vice president and general manager of The Homestead, told The Recorder KSL would consider selling the pools. Jones said Thursday night no firm offer has been made concerning a sale.

“My understanding is the hotel would accept an offer for the pools, but they’ve never given a price,” Jones said. “We’re not here in the position to write a check. We have not made them an offer, either.”

Also in April, a Homestead spokesperson said maintenance is performed on the bathhouses as needed, and that there were no specific plans to “refurbish the entire pool.”

Called by The Recorder this week, Faraone replied with a written statement. “We have not finalized any plans as of yet, all of the current renovation plans for 2012 are still in the beginning stages,” he wrote.

Jones mentioned the possibility of forming a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that would be in position to accept the pools “if they became available.” He cautioned that should that happen, there were things anyone taking control of them would need to consider.

“The pools are going to need a lot of work. It could be relatively easy to raise money to purchase them, but not so much for maintaining them. The hotel has people now who do maintenance,” Jones said. “We have to give them credit, they have put new shingles on the drinking pool (gazebo).”

Some in attendance also pointed out cables have been placed on the women’s bathhouse in order to help stabilize the structure.

Deemer stressed the Friends want to work with KSL to find a solution. “Our approach to this is not adversarial. The Homestead is an important part of our county. Our purpose is not to hurt The Homestead, our purpose is to restore the pools so people can enjoy them as they have in the past. We want to see them restored and operated,” he said.

The group agreed the next contact would be made with KSL officials rather than managers at The Homestead. Deemer said the Friends had reached out to The Homestead with the offer of paying for a historic structure report and had received no response, which many involved found frustrating. Several attempts have been made to discuss the pools with Homestead management, he said, but no concrete answers on when or if work might be done had been received.

Calls to KSL from The Recorder were not returned by press time this week.

Preservation Virginia and local residents have been concerned about the bathhouses for several years.

In June 2010, a PV report noted the buildings had not been maintained properly. They are listed among Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites, and in the September/October 2011 edition of Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the pools are considered to be “threatened.”

In an interview with The Recorder last summer, Faraone said repairs would begin “within weeks.” Faraone also said then he would be willing to talk about turning the pools over to a non-profit group. When he came to The Homestead in late 2009, Faraone told The Recorder the pools “absolutely need work.”

As far back as August 2007, former Homestead chief Sean Maddock agreed the pool buildings needed “historic restoration.” In September 2008, Maddock told The Recorder work on the pools would begin soon. And, over the years, several residents have written letters to The Homestead asking that something be done to improve the condition of the landmark structures.

Architect Terry Ammons of studioAmmons in Petersburg, who also has an office in Warm Springs, said the pools need immediate attention. “It’s a significant and extreme situation. The buildings have evolved from the original structures with repairs and things being propped up,” Ammons said. “If we have another snow like we had two years ago, I suspect some part of them might let go.”

Ammons emphasized a thorough inspection of the bathhouses was required. “Without a level of investigation, it’s hard to say for sure. They’re in very bad shape. From visual inspection, they’re in very bad shape. I would believe they would warrant concern and study. This is not something that should stretch out for years.”

Most of the structure is original, Ammons said. “They kind of sit on eggshells floating on an unusual foundation, and they’re filled with water. There are no buildings like this in the country,” he said. “The loss of the pools would be a national loss, not only a local loss. They are a part of larger history.”

The Friends have also been in touch with the National Trust, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architecture, Deemer said, explaining that tax credits could be for as much as 45 percent of the cost of the project and for-profit organizations are eligible for the credits.

Preservation Virginia, Deemer noted, has a revolving fund program that could be used if the pools become available. The fund is used to acquire historic properties and save them from demolition or severe neglect. Once acquired, properties are placed under protective easement with the VDHR, ensuring their protection from demolition or subdivision. Properties are then sold to new owners who agree to undertake rehabilitation. All proceeds from the sale of revolving fund properties are returned to the fund to replenish it for future acquisitions.

“We are looking for everybody that knows anything and can help us. We need to reach as many people as possible,” Deemer said.

Friends of the Jefferson Pools have written goals — to ensure the pools are repaired and restored according to the highest standards of historical authenticity and to ensure that the restored pools are maintained and operated in accordance with historical tradition for the benefit of future generations of residents and visitors.

The men’s bathhouse was built in 1761 and the women’s in 1836, making the men’s facility 250 years old and the women’s 175 years old. The water is fed by natural thermal springs and is about 98 degrees in both pools. The men’s bathhouse is octagonal in shape and about 120 feet in circumference. It holds about 43,000 gallons of water. The women’s pool is circular, about 50 feet in diameter, and holds about 60,000 gallons of water.

The Jefferson Pools have been listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register since 1968 and the National Register of Historic Places since 1969.

How to get involved

WARM SPRINGS — The Friends of the Jefferson Pools has organized to protect the structural, cultural and historic integrity of the national historic landmark. The group wants to see restoration and repairs on the bathhouses, considered to be the oldest spa structures in the United States.

The group held its first open meeting last Thursday, and anyone interested in the pools or who would be willing to join their effort is invited to contact them.

Visit their web site at www.friendsofthepools.org and submit a form to get on their contact list, or e-mail the group at: friendsofthepools@gmail.com.

Return to top


Fair Guide 2017

Summer Guide 2017