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

Red Sweet Springs (Sweet Chalybeate Springs)

Alleghany County, Virginia

The effects experienced after coming out of these baths, provided the patient has not indulged himself in them too long, are as remarkable as they are agreeable … There is an elasticity and buoyancy of body and spirit that makes one feel like leaping walls or clearing ditches at a single bound.    John J. Moorman

Edward Beyer's print of the Red Sweet Springs published in 1857. {1}

Edward Beyer’s print of the Red Sweet Springs published in 1857. {1}

William Burke on the Red Sweet Springs.

Only a mile from the Sweet Springs, the Red Sweet Springs in Alleghany County, Virginia, according to Dr. Burke’s book, The Mineral Springs of Western Virginia, had a beautiful situation “overlooking one of the most fertile and best cultivated farms in Virginia” and was owned by Richard Sampson and his son John. Dr. Burke had spent most of a summer at this establishment, also known as the Red Springs and the Sweet Chalybeate Springs, and testified to the “excellence of the fare, the comfort of the chambers, and the polite attention” of John Sampson and his manager. He was pleased with the design in terms of the convenience of the frame building that accommodated 60-70 people and boasted of a ball room, dining and bar-room, and two double-story galleries extending the length of the building. However, he was dismayed at the consequences of its location, “being thrown across the valley, as in the case of the Sweet Springs, it is destructive of the natural beauty of the locality.” Dr. Burke quoted a letter from John Sampson that described his new plans for improvements to the property as well as an assessment of the springs. Sampson noted that the various springs and pools ranged in temperature from 74 to 80 degrees and had a combined discharge of about 600 gallons a minute.

Burke’s Recommendations for Using the Waters at Red Sweet Springs.

One of the two bathing reservoirs was an octagon about 20 feet in diameter and boasted of “the finest spout imaginable,” a spout being a strong stream of water that could be directed to the particular part of the body most in need of soothing. Dr. Burke wrote that he did not stay in the bath longer than five minutes and gave a detailed description of the process undertaken upon leaving the water. He dried his head and neck while “a servant was engaged in rubbing the body with all his might.” After two minutes he wrote that a person felt “as if he could jump over the moon.”

Dr. Burke advised the Sampsons to “have two rubbers instead of one—a man and a small boy for the gentlemen; and a maid and little girl for ladies. After getting out of the bath, the person should be made to stand on a platform two feet square and about six inches elevated from the floor. In this should be some grooves to carry off the moisture from the feet, the junior rubber should then kneel down and with a coarse towel dry perfectly the legs and feet, while the bather and aid are employed on the head and trunk. With one rubber, the feet are apt to be left too long wet.” {Burke, 115-6}

Dr. Burke wrote that the bath was chalybeate or iron-containing and therefore a powerful agent in cases that benefit from a tonic treatment. He felt that 95% of the bathers would think the Red-Sweet Springs were more powerful as a tonic applied to the skin than the Sweet Springs. In terms of drinking water, he wrote, “its tonic property is acknowledged, and where such an agent is desirable it is not surpassed on the habitable globe.”

This lithograph was printed by P. S. Duval and Son, a prominent firm in Philadelphia. {2}

This lithograph was printed by P. S. Duval and Son, a prominent firm in Philadelphia. {2}

Seven pages are devoted to the skin, “that beautiful organ which, above all others, distinguishes man from the inferior animal creation, and which in lovely woman frequently attains such exquisite perfection as to place her second only to the angels.” Dr. Burke explained the custom of spending the first part of a season in sulphurous waters and then the later part of the season at the Hot, Warm and Sweet Springs as the sulphurous waters would be most effective on chronic diseases of the skin while the thermal waters would only relieve slight affections of the skin.

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