Saving the Bell from Old Sweet Chalybeate Springs

This weekend we went and picked up the old dinner bell from the old Sweet Chalybeate Springs resort, or as it was also called, Red Sweet Springs. We also picked up a load of antique handmade bricks from the remnants of the old Crow’s Tavern, in Crows, Virginia – which was just down the road from Sweet Chalybeate.

This spa complex located at the site of Sweet Chalybeate Springs, a.k.a., Red Sweet Springs, is a relic of the 19th-century days when the fashionable world of the North and South came to the mineral springs of western Virginia to “take the waters and play the marriage market.”

Known since the 18th century, Sweet Chalybeate was developed in 1836 into a commercial resort which lasted until 1918. Although some of the buildings are neglected and deteriorating, the relatively complete collection of mid- and late 19th-century pavilions and cottages attests to the popularity of the resort and provides poignant picture of a Virginia spa. The springs themselves, claimed to contain the strongest carbonated mineral waters in the nation, still flow freely from the limestone bluff. Chalybeate is a type of mineral water impregnated with salts of iron.

Dr. William Burke described the medicinal qualities of the spring water at Sweet Chalybeate:

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.

Dr. William Burke on Red Sweet Springs (Sweet Chalybeate), Taking the Waters: 19th Century Medicinal Springs of Virginia; http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/springs/redsweet/

An older view of the remnants of the resort, looking South, I believe. Peters Mountain is in the distance.

Here’s a photograph of the bell still in place:

And a close-up. Thanks to Sam Hale for finding the pictures.

Here’s one I found at the Library of Congress. If you look closely, the bell can be seen in this photos as well:

A few more pics they had:

This is where the stagecoaches used to stop along the turnpike and let off of passengers; and of course, pick up new ones:

A close-up of the stairs from ground level at that spot:

This is a surviving “omnibus” coach used at Sweet Chalybeate, as well as old Sweet Springs, just down the road. It’s currently in the collection of the Monroe County (WV) Historical Society:

A photo of it, or a similar one, in actual use at the same spot:

A photo of the same coach being used in a parade, possibly in the 80s from the looks of the cars:

You can see that it’s the same bell, and broken in the same way. It also shows the bell being painted red.

It’s missing the clapper, unfortunately:

Some of the handmade bricks from down the road at Crow’s Tavern.

The bricks in their new home at the fort, and where hopefully they’ll be put to use, along with the new bell . . . .

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