University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Warm Springs: Diary of Alexander Dick, August 29, 1806

Portion of Edward Beyer’s print: Merritt T. Cooke Memorial Virginia Print Collection, 1857-1907, Accession #9408, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.

A Scottish accountant, Alexander Dick, was sent by Parliament in 1806 to investigate pre-Revolutionary War debts. He spent several years in the United States and kept a diary of his journeys. To escape the summer heat of Richmond he traveled to the mountains of Virginia and visited both Warm Springs and Hot Springs. Preserved in the University of Virginia Library, the diary is fragile, but has been made accessible by Helen Lewis who wrote her master’s thesis based on it. His entry for August 29th described the Warm Springs.

This is a very Singular looking place—It is Situated in a deep hollow Surrounded on all Sides by high Mountains—There is a tavern with a number of log huts & Cabins all round it for the accomodation [sic] of the Compy—There is also a Court House & Goal. –The Spring is a most Copious one indeed. It forces itself up with great Violence by different issues which Cover a Considerable Span of ground & the run from which when Collected is Sufficient to turn a Grist Mill—The bason of the principal Spring is 50 feet in diameter & 5 or 6 feet deep in the Center—The Water is very clear & transparent, but has a bluish Cast & a pretty Strong Sulpherous Smell. The temperature when it issues from the earth is 96 degrees & in the Morning when the Air is Cool a Steam rises from it all along in the Valley as from boiling Water—It is a very great Curiosity indeed. There are at present about 50 or 60 people here with all their Horses & Carriages & Servants. The Spring is recommended in Rheumatic Complaints & we were told of one Person who felt So much relief while in it that he Slept immersed in it all night for 5 or 6 nights Successively—People who bathe in it Say they experience a most agreeable Sensation. It is also drank & operates as a Cathartic & diuretic—The bason is So deep that a Mr Marx of Richmd. was almost drowned in it a few days ago havg got beyond his depth & not being able to Swim” {Dick, p. 288-9}

Sir Alexander Dick, Journal of Alexander Dick in America 1806-1809 / [edited by] Helen Beall Lewis, Master’s Thesis, University of Virginia, 1984.

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