By Chelsi Baker | 08/13/2012
Sunday evening, July 8, 2012, an unlikely family of friends and relatives gathered in the Meeting House at Capon Springs and Farms outside of Romney, W.Va. in Hampshire County, to celebrate the facility’s growth from a run-down resort next to a spring to the family vacation spot it is today.
The ceremony celebrated the property’s 80-year history and the multiple generations of guests, employees and family members who kept the resort going over the years since its start as Capon Springs Water Company.
“It was all about the water,” said Jonathan Bellingham, a member of the third generation of the family who has owned and operated the facility.
Louis Austin got his start in the water business at Capon Springs in 1923 after he bought a contract to distribute the spring water in Philadelphia.
He had no interest in the resort at the time.
After its owner lost the property due to outstanding debts, it was sold at auction on the courthouse steps in Romney. Austin, who risked losing access to his spring water, gathered money from friends and bid on the resort in attempts to remain in the water business.
On July 9, 1932, Louis Austin placed the winning bid on what is now Capon Springs and Farms. The property included the spring, land, swimming pool and several worn-down buildings and cottages. The spring, however, was still all that mattered.
Austin’s friends visited the old resort after he bought it, and their visits turned into short vacations. Austin’s friends told their friends about the resort, and the property attracted more and more visitors solely through word of mouth.
“Eighty years later the water faded in the background, and it’s now a treasured vacation place,” said Bellingham.
The early years at Capon Springs and Farms are all about relationships, Bellingham said. Guests returned year after year and brought new members of the Capon Springs family with them. They bonded with employees. They created memories with their children and shared experiences with other visitors.
To honor these relationships and the people who contributed to the story of Capon Springs, Bellingham and his family recognized their guests during the 80th anniversary ceremony who have stayed in the cottages at least 80 times or a cumulative 365 days over the years.
They also praised employees who have multiple generations of family members who have worked at the facility over the years.
“We have some families who have three and four generations who worked here. One family even has six generations,” Bellingham said. “They have a shared history and a mission.
They keep the rooms clean and the guests fed. They maintain our buildings, and the guests appreciate that. They make friends. They come in and they have the same waitress they’ve had for 30 years, and they come back and see the facility exactly how they remembered it as kids.”
When guests come, they immediately see the 19th century architecture, the pool, gardens and fountains scattered through the Capon Springs facility. All of these things, however, would not be the same without the water.
The spring, Bellingham said, is still the lifeblood of the resort.
The resort features a spring-fed swimming pool and fountains. The meals are prepared with spring water. Even the water from the sinks comes from the spring. The water is everywhere.
Guests can drink the water, which is said to have healing powers, from water fountains in most buildings on the property. Some guests even fill up bottles to take with them when they leave.
“The secret to the water is its pH balance. It’s slightly alkaline, and it cures ailments having to do with acid in the body. We have couples that tried for years and years to conceive and they said it was only after drinking the water that something happened. So be careful out there! It’s powerful stuff.” Bellingham said.
The family made sure to remind guests about the importance of the water during the ceremony.
Although Capon Springs and Farms has grown into a family vacation destination, its roots are not forgotten. The water brought Louis Austin to the property, and the spring helped Bellingham and the rest of his family grow their business and keep it going from generation to generation.
“It’s a rags-to-riches story,” he said. “It’s not only the personal story of our grandfather, but it’s a true American story about determination and hard work and having a mission in life that’s not always what you think it’s going to be.”
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