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Bath County Pools Restoration Is Back On... Again

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Bridget Manley
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After years of falling into disrepair, plans to rehabilitate the Warm Springs Pools in Bath County are back on, according to the owners. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

Julie Langan remembers the first time she visited the Warm Springs Pools.

JULIE LANGAN: I remember it vividly. I was fifteen or sixteen years old, and I went to the [Omni] Homestead on a family vacation over the Christmas and New Year holiday, and it made a lasting impression.

Already a history buff, Langan says she was mesmerized by the architecture of the Homestead, as well as by the pool houses.

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Credit Virginia Department of Historic Resources
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Julie Langan is Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the State Historic Preservation Officer

LANGAN: The authenticity of the experience at Warm Springs is unlike any other experience that I’ve had. It hasn’t been improved on in hundreds of years, and that’s part of its charm. And when you’re in the water, it’s crystal clear, it’s the perfect temperature, you just float and look up at the sky through the oculus in the roof, and it’s magical.

Langan is the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the State Historic Preservation Officer. She is one of many people who are working on the restoration of the bath houses since their closing in 2017.

The buildings were constructed in the early 1800’s, but were in such bad shape that county officials closed them for safety reasons. In March 2019, the Omni Homestead Resort, which owns the property, announced they would restore them.  Then, in February 2020, they released the plans for the full restoration that was to be completed by 2021.

And you can guess what happened next.

LYNN SWANN: COVID really had just a devastating impact on our resort and on the hospitality industry as a whole. That’s no secret.

Lynn Swann is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Omni Hotels & Resorts.

SWANN:  And because of the pandemic, projects such as the Warm Springs Pools had to be put on hold.

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Credit 3North, architect for the project
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This is a rendering of what the inside of the bathhouse should look like on completion of the renovations.

She says that even though the buildings have deteriorated even more since the announcement last year, they remain hopeful that much of the buildings’ original structure can be saved.

SWANN: It’s truly a board-by-board project, where they will look at every single board to determine if it’s suitable or if it needs to be replaced with an in-kind material. We will be taking things very carefully to make sure that we can restore them in a way that maintains the character of these historic structures.

Maintaining the integrity of the buildings is not only important from a historical perspective, but also a financial one. The Homestead plans to apply for historic tax credits at both the federal and state level, but those credits come with strict guidelines. But if built to those very specific guidelines, the tax credits are well worth the investment.

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Credit 3North, architect for the project
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This is what the architect hopes the outside of the renovated structure will look like.

LANGAN: If you make an investment rehabilitating a significant historic structure, and your work is approved by my office and the National Park Service, then you earn tax credits. And in the case of Virginia’s, it’s 25% of the cost of your rehab expense, and the federal is 20%. So, that’s very motivating for people.

Phil Deemer is the Executive Director of Preservation Bath - a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Bath County’s cultural and architectural heritage. He has also been working with the Omni Homestead to preserve the buildings.

He is happy the plans are back on, and says that a few members of Preservation Bath were able to see the insides of the bathhouses recently, and they reported even worse conditions inside.

DEEMER: What I was told was that there is all sorts of debris in there, like chairs that were thrown in, and broken glass, and whatever. So someone actually said that they looked worse on the inside than they do on the outside. And they look horrible on the outside.

Another change: the Omni Homestead is retiring the marketing name given to the pools to draw tourists in – ‘The Jefferson Pools.’ They have gone back to the original name -- the Warm Spring Pools.

LANGAN: Jefferson Pools was a marketing gimmick, and has no real relationship to any historic name that the pools has ever been known by. And it’s a bit ironic, as well. Because while Jefferson did visit, he had a miserable experience at the pools, and he writes about his time there, and has nothing good to say about it. And he was one of many presidents to visit. So there’s absolutely no reason to call them the Jefferson Pools.

Deemer says that Preservation Bath was happy about that decision.

DEEMER: We argued strongly from the beginning that they should change the name back to the Warm Springs Pools, and we are glad they agreed.

If all goes as planned, the pools will be open to the public by early 2023.