Profit Trumps Preservation in Warm Springs
It helps a little to think of this as a story that has been going on for centuries; it’s just the most recent chapters that are moving painfully slowly. Preservation Bath was founded by some residents who were concerned about watching two historic structures slowly decay with little attention being paid by the owners. Recently three of the members spoke about how the group began, what they are hoping for, and in the second part to this pair of stories, what the future may hold. Lee Elliot, Janice McWilliams and Phil Deemer are ready for the next chapter to begin, but have not seen or heard a thing indicating it will.
“I drive by the Warm Springs Pools, also know as the Jefferson Pools, everyday to go to the post office, and it could hardly escape my notice that it was getting to be in rather bad condition; and after seeing no progress about restoration, a group of us starts our organization which we initially called Friends of the Pools, and then when we applied for our 501c3 non-profit status, we called it Preservation Bath, with the idea that there would be other projects that we might undertake in Bath County.”
The Pools are so much more than a land mark, it was clear many people cared enough to work together to see them last. What seemed obvious and straightforward at first has not turned out to be so.
“Our early concept was we would get concerned people together to volunteer time to do some of the restoration. We saw local folks, as being able to maybe paint or do some of the repair work.”
Under KSL ownership, the Homestead was even willing to give the pools to Preservation Bath, and let the group carry on with restoration.
Phil Deemer explained.
“You know the old story was, the managers at hotel have said for years the two parts of the hotel that they knew made money were the bowling alley, and The Pools. And KSL of course ripped out the bowling alley, but The Pools, they knew was a major portion of the profit-making operations. If we would take ownership, and fix them up, which we were absolutely committed to do, they still were looking to operate them, and get the majority if not all of the revenue from them, and that just didn’t fly with the government.”
Strong public attention, thanks to news articles in Richmond and Washington newspapers, and one in Roanoke as far back as 2008, even further increased the profit making of the nearly decrepit pool houses.
“I think we are fundamentally convinced” said Deemer , “that Omni does truly want to fix up the Pools, but saying it and doing it are two different things.”
Now as the Omni Homestead, the hotel claims it will “do the right thing” and move ahead with restoration itself. So far, other than a fresh coat of paint, not much has changed. Preservation Bath is aware they didn’t need to contract for, and then freely provide the nearly two-year old condition assessment report from an engineer, to the new owners of the pools. But they were hopeful the report could inspire, as well as help in very practical ways, the new owners and the historic bath-house structures. What is actually remarkable is that such old wooden structures standing over steaming baths through deep frozen winters, and hot dry summers, are still standing at all. So while weather and years continue to take their toll on this piece of local and state history, Preservation Bath keeps watch, and works to preserve the variety of other historic structures needing their initiative. If working to preserve unique old buildings is something you care about, and you would be willing to share time or talent for the cause, please visit friendsofthepools.org . For an additional story about what the future may hold for Preservation Bath, stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio.