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

White Sulphur Springs

Greenbrier County, West Virginia

If the estimation in which the White Sulphur water is held, in the United States, be any evidence of its merit, it needs no other eulogy; for it is well known that its fame has spread to every portion of the nation. It is indeed a noble fountain, destined, we hope and trust, to be a blessing to countless generations. William Burke

This is the image of White Sulphur Springs chosen for the book written by John J. Moorman, the resident physician. {1}

William Burke on the White Sulphur Springs.

Edward Beyer’s print of White Sulphur Springs published in 1857. {2}

The White Sulphur Springs, now the Greenbrier resort, is in Greenbrier County in what is now West Virginia. Thirty-five miles from Hot Springs, it had accommodations for 500 people with the normal number of accompanying servants and horses. Informed that a greater number had been lodged, Dr. Burke wrote in The Mineral Springs of Western Virginia, “More than six hundred are said to have been taken in, but when the guest has to be crammed into a room with some half dozen others, it is not so much accommodation as making shift.” In the dozen years prior to the printing of Dr. Burke’s book there were extensive improvements though “such a glaring want of design in the arrangement of the buildings, that it is painful to a man of taste to observe how nature has been marred by the want of art.” Dr. Burke described the chaos at mealtime caused by servants seizing the best of the food for their private employers or for guests who had bribed the establishment’s servants. He suggested the banning of private servants from the dining hall and the implementation of a system to make it more difficult to bribe the White Sulphur Springs servants.

Dr. Burke claimed that Moorman was saying that water without the gas was even better than the original from the spring and begged to differ: “We can understand how half a loaf is better than no bread; but it will take better logic than that exhibited by Dr. M. to convince us that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.” {Burke, 148}

Dr. Burke devoted a remarkable 80 percent of his chapter on the White Sulphur Springs and more than 10 percent of his entire book to his disagreement with the resident doctor, J. J. Moorman, concerning the effectiveness of White Sulphur Springs water that no longer contained “sulphuretted hydrogen gas.” Dr. Moorman and his supporters testified in lengthy quotes that water transported for the use of the general public and lacking the gas was as beneficial to the user as the water with the gas that was consumed at the springs. With increasing fervor and the creative use of a satirical drama, Dr. Burke rebuked Dr. Moorman’s theory which Burke believed stemmed from a desire for pecuniary gain and resulted in the sale of “putrid” and “stale” water.

Dr. Burke eventually wrote, “We shall make no further quotations from Dr. M[oorman]. His facts are without foundation in truth; his arguments puerile and shallow; his theories untenable; his absurdities ridiculous; his motives palpable and culpable; and his efforts to bolster up a selfish practice, a gross imposition.” {Burke, 172}

Dr. Burke did have good things to say about the springs. He wrote that the water’s fame had spread to the entire nation and called the fountain noble, “destined, we hope and trust, to be a blessing to countless generations.” Dr. Burke quoted an article in the Southern Literary Messenger [April 1838, p. 261] that said the spring was covered by a tasteful, domed pavilion, adorned with a statue of the patron saint of healing, Hygeia. Surrounded by shade trees, the pavilion was a gathering place for both the sick and indisposed as well as the healthy and vigorous.

This birds-eye view of White Sulphur Springs, published in 1859, illustrates that the establishment was designed to promote romance and entertainment as well as health. The bath house and several springs are marked, but so are winding paths with names like Lovers Walk, Way to Paradise, and Courtship Maze. In addition to the large hotel and rows of cottages, many named after the southern states, there are several ball rooms and a bowling alley. {3}

Burke’s Recommendations for Using the Waters at White Sulphur Springs.

Dr. Burke quoted John Bell’s book, On Baths and Mineral Waters, which delineated the various illnesses that people hoped would be cured by a visit to the White Sulphur Springs. “The White Sulphur Springs have been much resorted to by invalids suffering from dyspepsia, chronic hepatitis, the slow fever following remittent, bilious, or ill-cured intermittent fevers; chronic rheumatism, cutaneous diseases, uterine derangements, such as obstructed menstruation and fluor albus.” Burke added that the water would be useful in most cases of visceral illness and certain nephritic diseases, but that it could be harmful to those predisposed to pulmonary disorders or with actual respiratory disease.Burke’s Recommendations for Using the Waters at White Sulphur Springs.

Professor William Rogers from the University of Virginia did an analysis of the waters which indicated that the White Sulphur Springs did not have the gaseous or saline quantities of many spring waters, but Burke insisted that did not make the water inferior in curative assets as, “There may be too much of a good thing in mineral waters.”

Robert T. Hubard Farm Journal, September 11, 1839.

Robert Thruston Hubard (1808-1871) was a tobacco farmer, lawyer, and member of the Virginia House of Delegates. This was at least his second visit to the springs as he wrote a letter to his wife from White Sulphur in 1838. His journal entry dated September 11, 1839, illustrates his passionate disdain for the milieu of the Virginia springs.

Robert T. Hubard Farm Journal, 1834-1846, Accession #8039-c, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.

Amount brought forward $1.679:44 To paid expenses of my wife, myself, 3. children, 3. servants and 3. horses while absent on a trip for health to the White Sulphur (that sink hole of ex= =travagance, gambling & vice for many young & unmarried men) and also to the Hot Springs from the 9th August the day we left home to the 10th Sept, when we returned, without being much benefitted by the trip….$285:00 If either of my sons should ever after or before my death visit the Va Springs, for health and I hope they will never go for any other purpose, may Heaven in its mercy guard & defend them from all the evil, the seductive & corrupting influen =ces of those dull, disagreeable and dangerous places. To paid my expenses to Nelson during the last of this month 2:00 287:00 Amount carried forward…$1.966:44 {4}

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