One of the US’s Newest National Recreational Trails Begins at a Resort for America’s Early Presidents

On June 1, 2024, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the designation of four new National Recreational Trails in honor of National Great Outdoors Month. The Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail in Sweet Springs, West Virginia is one of them.

In the southeastern corner of West Virginia, on the Virginia border is the Sweet Springs Resort Park. The resort complex features a large hotel that was designed by an associate of Thomas Jefferson1, the oldest jail and courthouse east of the Allegheny Mountains, and the Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail—a former carriage road designed by the French engineer Claude Cozet for easier transportation to the resort through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Since their discovery by white colonists in 1774, the natural warm baths and clean mountain spring waters of the Sweet Springs area attracted esteemed peoples from all over the southeastern United States. These visitors included James and Dolly Madison, Millard Fillmore, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, and George and Martha Washington.2 When Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State, he boasted the water’s powers in a 1791 letter to Fulwar Skipwith:

“I shall be happy to hear that Mrs. Skipwith’s stay at Richmond has bettered her health, & that the trip to the Sweet springs shall do it still more.”

Thomas Jefferson3

With Sweet Springs growing popularity, the General Assembly of Virginia passed legislation in 1830 to allow for the creation of the Fincastle-Sweet Springs Turnpike. The assembly assigned Claude Claudius Cozet, a French engineer who fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before working for the Virginia Board of Public Works, to design the trail. As turnpike construction was underway, the Lewis family who owned the land replaced the log cabins that were onsite with a resort, which opened in 1833.

H. S. Packard, del. No publisher or lithographer noted. A collage of images of the resort. The images are Central Building and Cottages, Bath House, Interior View of the Bath, Ballroom, Broadway Row, Bowling & Shooting Alleys, The Drinking Spring, Approach to the Hotel, and an untitled overview of the Springs. Accessed from “The Old Print Shop.”

The Sweet Springs Resort stayed open through the Civil War. However, after the war, vacation-goers started to travel to retreats closer to rail lines. Sweet Springs Resort operated until 1930. The state of West Virginia acquired the property in 1945 to use as a home for the elderly until 1991. The park changed hands a few times before landing in the hands of Ashby Berkeley in 2015 who then gave the property to the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Inc.—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to the restoration of “Old Sweet.”2 Ashby Berkeley is the project manager for the organization.

Once the resort structures were protected from extensive water damage, trail planning and building began in August of 2023. Volunteers and staff from the Allegheny Trail worked to clear the Sweet Springs Turnpike coach road of vegetation and garbage. In October 2023, the first phase of the trail was opened and an application for the Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail to be a National Recreational Trail was submitted. The United States Department of the Interior approved Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc.’s application on May 31, 2024.

Volunteers at a trail clean-up in 2023 which removed over 100 tires and other garbage left by a dumping area on Peters Mountain. Photo from Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc.

Since the trail opened, the Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail has grown to include a mountain biking trail. Plans for the trail include joining the Allegheny Trail to replace a section of 11 miles of roadway walking. Once that pathway is complete, the two trails will join the Appalachian Trail—the world’s longest hiking-only footpath which stretches from Maine to Georgia.

After checking into the Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc. office, hikers can enjoy the one-mile-long Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail as an out-and-back path or as a loop with the Three Sisters Trail. Trekkers will ascend a gentle incline that features views of the surrounding valley and mountains. There are three fence crossings on the path to go through as cows may still roam the farm land the path cuts through. As always at the end of any hike, trekkers should check for ticks.

Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc. volunteers maintain the Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail and use it and the surrounding resort as a hub for public education on environmental stewardship and history—including the history of the indigenous peoples who lived in the area and the enslaved peoples who built and worked within the resort before the Civil War. Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc. also offers tours, and overnight stays for paranormal investigators of all skill levels, and is a venue for weddings and events.

Contact information for Sweet Springs Resort Foundation Inc.

Mailing: 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Sweet Springs, WV 24941

GPS: 1 Jefferson Lane, Sweet Springs, WV 24941

website: www.sweetspringsresortpark.org

  1. West Virginia Humanities Council, the West Virginia Encyclopedia, “Sweet Springs,” https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/656.
  2. Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Inc. “Hisotry of the National Recreational Trail, Historic Sweet Springs Turnpike Trail” Press Release.
  3. Papers of the Randolph family of Edgehill and Wilson Cary Nicholas, 1725-1826, Accession #5533, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. 19th century copy. Accessed through University of Virginia, Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Science Library, “Taking the Waters: 19th Century Medicinal Springs of Virginia”.