Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Homestead

This past weekend Chris and I traveled to The Homestead for an event through his office. The Homestead is a historic resort located in Hot Springs, VA which is about four hours outside of D.C in the Allegheny Mountains. It's amazing how a few hours on the road can make you feel like your hundreds of of miles away from the hustle and bustle of Washington. It was such a beautiful, quiet and cool place to spend the weekend. There wasn't the slightest hint of humidity in the mountain air which was a special treat. The Homestead was established in 1766 so I thought I'd give you a brief history lesson before a recap of our weekend.

The History

The Homestead was founded ten years before the American Revolution started. This part of Virginia is well known for its minerals springs, which is exactly why people traveled to this part of the state. Presidents and princes are just some of the few guests that have traveled to Hot Springs, VA to soak in the "healing waters."

From 1755 to 1756, George Washington, only 23 years old at the time and the commander of the Virginia Militia, visited the springs several times and eventually became friends with Thomas Bullett. Thomas served as an officer in the Militia and by 1756 George Washington named him in command of Fort Dinwiddie.

At the time Militia officers were paid for their services with land. In 1764 Thomas Bullett and his partners received 300 acres of land that included seven mineral springs. Today those 300 acres form the heart of The Homestead. Captain Bullett took the lead in developing the area and many Militia members and their families vacationed there. In 1766 The Homestead was officially established and Thomas Bullett eventually died during his service in the American Revolution.

Between 1818 and 1820 Thomas Jefferson and James Madison visited The Homestead. It was in 1832 when The Homestead was acquired by Dr. Thomas Goode, a prominent Virginia physician. Dr. Goode had traveled to Europe and visited several of their renowned spas. He was the first to recognize the potential fine dining and romance had as an essential part of The Homestead. Dr. Goode added spacious dining rooms, new kitchens and beautiful ballrooms, which brought it to a new level.

For several years prior to 1888 The Homestead went through a bit of a slump. It was in 1888 that J. Pierpont Morgan, America's most prominent banker at the time, together with a number of wealthy investors required a corporation which purchased The Homestead. In 1892 The Homestead underwent major renovations and Thomas Edison, a regular guest, supplied their first electric power plant.

In 1899 President Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States, visited several times. President McKinley was the first President to tee off the from the legendary First Tee of the Old Course. In 1901 The Homestead was damaged by fire. Fortunately no one lost their life and the Spa, Casino building, Virginia building and cottages were not damaged. The new, main Homestead building and ballroom were completed after this fire.

In 1908, President William Taft visited with his family for three months and gave one of the first presidential campaign speeches ever to be recorded at The Homestead. In 1915 Woodrow Wilson visited during his Presidency on his honeymoon with his second wife, Edith Golling Galt Wilson. For many years following multiple Presidents visited The Homestead. As I mentioned earlier, it's a reasonable getaway from D.C. so I can see why so many Presidents traveled there for some quiet time.

In 1993 Club Resorts acquired The Homestead and began a complete restoration with an outdoor pool, shooting range, and ski slopes. The Homestead offers three championship golf courses, a 48 stable Equestrian Center, a top rated Shooting Club, falconry, fly-fishing, a 270 seat historic movie theater, a 45 acre ski area and a European-style spa. It truly is a family oriented resort.

My Experience

Travel & Leisure magazine ranked The Homestead #12 of 52 hotels in 2010:  "The World's Best Hotels for Families." It is a great place to visit with your family, especially if you enjoy the outdoors or you're simply looking for a quiet place to relax. I wouldn't rank it as one of the world's best hotels for young couples. There is nothing inexpensive about The Homestead so if I were to choose a place to spend that kind of money on a weekend getaway I don't believe it would be my top choice- at this point in my life.

The guys played golf all day Saturday so they couldn't have been happier. One of Chris' co-worker's girlfriends and I have become friends and we had planned on sitting by the pool all day. I checked the weather before we left town on Thursday and I thought we were going to have it made. Well boy was the weather forecast wrong. We woke up on Saturday to cloudy skies and very cool temperatures. Don't get me wrong, I didn't miss the humidity for one minute but it was quite clear that we wouldn't be sitting by the pool sipping fun drinks all afternoon.

After a nice breakfast and stroll along the grounds, Kelly and I plopped ourselves into a rocking chair on the front porch and off we went chatting....for two hours. I love a rocking chair as much as any other good ole' southerner but let me tell can only rock for so long before your rear goes numb. At one point in time I realized that Kelly and I were close to the only two people talking on the entire front porch. Keep in mind we were seated in two out of probably 25 rocking chairs. During the middle of one of our conversations a gentleman walked up behind us and said "excuse me ladies." I immediately thought that we were going to be told to stop talking because we were too loud but I was pleasantly surprised to hear him ask if we'd like a pillow to place behind our backs for support. Southern hospitality at its best!

After our two hour rocking chair expedition came to an end we decided to wander through the inside of the resort. As we walked the halls we came across one sitting room after another. Each room was beautifully decorated with inviting lounge chairs and multiple "game tables." I've never seen so many chess and checkers boards in my life! Throughout these rooms you'd find people quietly curled up reading a book. As Kelly and I roamed the hallways we would get a few dirty looks because I assume our conversation was disturbing their reading time. As we finished our walking tour we noticed folks coming out of the woodwork in the main foyer. What was going on? Afternoon tea!! Yeah, finally something to do!!

Not long after tea the guys returned from golf, the sun broke through the clouds and we headed to the pool to relax and enjoy a cocktail. We had wonderful meals during our entire visit. Friday night we ate at the Casino Club and Saturday evening at Sam Snead's Tavern. The breakfast buffet each morning was heavenly. 

Overall we had a wonderful visit, but if I had it to do all over again I would do it completely different. Kelly and I didn't plan an activity for the two of us to do because we counted on the weather being a little nicer than it was. Had we planned an activity I'm sure it would have been great; otherwise, I'm not cut out to curl up in a chair and read, quietly for hours on end....unless I'm at the beach or the pool. If you have a family it's great because you can keep the kids busy all day, or if you're simply looking for peace and quiet then The Homestead is your place.

I didn't experience the spa but Kelly went for a massage on Saturday. She said it was great but she did make a good comparison. She said that she spent just as much at The Homestead's spa as she did at the Bellagio in Las Vegas- for the same services. She said that you can't even compare the two and I simply think that is because The Homestead is very old and classic and the Bellagio is luxurious and trend-setting. Two completely different worlds.

Call me a trend-setter, or a city slicker, but I guess that's what I get for being born and raised in a fairly large city and starting my career in Washington, D.C.  I don't want anyone to think that The Homestead isn't a wonderful place to visit, because it is.

On Sunday we decided to take the scenic route back to D.C. which took us along the Maury River. It was one of those picturesque views where you wish you had packed a picnic so you could sit back, relax and enjoy the sound of the water. I think our next adventure along the river will be a tubing excursion!

Happy 4th of July! Safe travels to everyone driving and flying this weekend.

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