Chapter XXXVI - Natural Curiosities

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
Pages 409-418

Capon Springs. — Four miles up the mountain from Capon river and two miles from the summit of North mountain, Capon springs and baths, today among the famous watering places of the world, rest like a hawk's nest against the mountain side. The buildings are on a small plateau containing a couple of acres, and through the middle of this flows a small crystal stream whose waters are from the mineral springs at its head.

These springs have been known for years. Long before the beginning of this century a man named Henry Frye had discovered the springs and made some improvements. While hunting one day on the mountain side, near the springs, he killed a large bear. Gathering up such a portion of his game as he could carry, he started tor camp. Before he had proceeded very far, however, he became thirsty, and throwing down his burden, he descended into the glen in search of water. He found a large spring, from which he cleared away the moss and leaves and then satisfied his thirst. The temperature and peculiar taste of the water led him to suspect its medicinal value. When, during the following summer, his wife was afflicted with rheumatism, he decided to take her to this place to see if a cure could not be effected. He built a small cabin and removed with his wife thither. This was undoubtedly the first improvement of the place and was made perhaps about the year 1765, although there is no definite record of the late. The place was for many years known as Frye's springs, in honor of the discoverer.

In the month of October, 1787, twenty acres of land around and including the spring was laid off into lots and streets. The place was named Watson and retained this name for some years. The following persons made up the first board of trustees: Elias Poston, Henry Frye, Isaac Hawk, Jacob Hoover, John Winterton, Valentine Swisher, Rudolph Bumgarner, Paul M'Ivor, John Sherman Woodcock and Isaac Zane.

The lots thus laid off were to contain one-half acre, and it became the duty of the trustees to advertise the lots and offer them for sale at the next session of the county court. One of the conditions to a title was that the purchaser should build on each lot a dwelling house sixteen feet square and having a brick or stone chimney.

Defining the duties of trustees, article eighth of the same act states: "The said trustees shall lay off the said lots and streets as contiguous to that part of said land from whence the water issues, supposed efficacious in certain disorders, as the situation will admit of; and shall also lay off half an acre of land, to include said spring, the length of which shall extend down the stream and be double the width; which half acre so laid off shall be and the same is hereby vested in said trustees and their successors, in trust, to and for the use of such persons as may resort thereto."

Another act was passed on December 27, 1800, by which Andrew Wodrow, James Singleton, John Litle, Stephen Pritchard, Moses Russell, Henry Beatty, John Croudson and Thomas Powell were made trustees. Disputes arose concerning titles to the lots sold by the first board of trustees, and in 1803 John Mitchell, at that time county surveyor, was appointed to re-survey the town and make a plat showing boundary of lots. This plat was approved by the trustees and afterwards established by the assembly as the true survey of the town. The law which compelled the purchasers of lots to build stone or brick chimneys to their dwellings was also repealed in the same year. On January 4, 1816, Charles Brent, Philip Williams, David Ogden, John Litle (son of Thomas Litle), George Huddle, William Herrin and Archibald Craigwell were appointed trustees. There was another act passed in 1830, which made it the duty of the board to appoint a clerk, who had charge of collecting and disbursing moneys accruing to the trustees.

An early historian, writing about the place in 1833, says: "This place is too publicly known to require a minute description in this work; suffice it to say, it is located in a deep, narrow glen, on the west side of the Great North mountain. The road across the mountain is rugged and disagreeable to travel, but money is now raising by lottery to improve it. The trustees for several years past have imposed a pretty heavy tax upon visitors for the use of the waters. This tax is intended to raise funds for keeping the baths, etc., in repair. There are seventeen or eighteen houses erected without much regard to regularity, and a boarding establishment, capable of accommodating fifty or sixty visitors, which is kept in excellent style."

Such was a description of the place sixty-four years ago, but there have been great changes since then. In 1849 the main building was built by Buck, Blakemore and Ricord, at a cost of $75,000. During the summer following its completion Daniel Webster paid the place a visit and made a speech while there. He was accompanied by Sir Henry Bulwer, at that time English ambassador to this country. President Pierce also paid the place a visit during his term of office. At one time, when there was a vacancy in the board of trustees, J. P. Morgan, the multi-millionaire of today, was chosen for the place. His going to Europe soon thereafter prevented his acceptance. When the Civil war came on the board of trustees were some eight thousand dollars in debt. A special act passed the Virginia assembly permitting the trustees to sell the building's and property for debt. This was done, but after the war was over the sale was annulled as a confederate transaction.

Capon Springs have long enjoyed a reputation as a watering place. It was once a favorite summer resort with the Washington family. "Long before hotels were built," writes Dr. Still, "the wealthy families of Virginia and the neighboring states pitched their tents around the Springs during the heated term." Another writer speaking of this place before the war, says: "The Capon Springs and baths in ante-bellum days enjoyed a reputation unsurpassed by any watering place in the South. The wealth and intelligence of the North and South met here during the season in pleasant, social relation, and gave to Capon a historic interest and national reputation which to this day have made it among the most popular and attractive summer resorts in this country."

The people of this county are far less acquainted with this resort than many strangers from hundreds of miles away. For this reason a description of the place as it appears today may be of interest to readers of this book. The main hotel which stands at the base of the hills which rise in the rear of the building is an imposing structure. It rises four stories in height and has a frontage of two hundred and sixty-two feet on the north and one hundred and ninety-six feet on the south. In front of this building runs a large portico one hundred and seventy-five feet long and eighteen feet in width. The front of this portico is set off with huge white Doric pillars rising up thirty-five feet to the ceiling. The dining hall, which is two hundred and forty feet long and forty feet wide, permits more than six hundred persons to be seated at one time. Adjoining the dining room is the large and finely furnished ball room. In the same building is the parlor, which is quite an fait. Besides the main hotel there are a couple of annexes which are buildings of considerable size. Facing the building above described, and separated from it by about a hundred yards of lawn, stand the bath house and swimming pool. There are about forty bath rooms in the building with arrangements for douche, plunge and shower baths. The swimming pool is an elliptical pit ninety feet in length and forty-eight feet wide. The depth varies from three and one-half to eight and one-half feet, but the crystal clearness of the water gives it the appearance of being but a few inches deep.

At the head of the glen in which the buildings are situated, is the main spring which pours out its waters from the base of white cliffs at the rate of six thousand gallons an hour. As it flows from the earth the temperature is sixty-four degrees. In the swimming pool the temperature is ordinarily near seventy, but this is due to the sun's heat. The water is what is known as alkaline lithia, and as it flows from the earth has a saponaceous feel. A qualatative analysis of the water shows that it contains silicic acid, soda, magnesia, bromine, iodine and carbonic acid. The waters are not repugnant to the taste, but are, in fact, pleasant. They belong to the alkaloid carbonates and Dr. Ashby, who made an extensive study of mineral waters, declared that they were similar in medical affect to the Vichy of France, the Carlsbad of Germany and the Bethesda of Wisconsin. The waters are agreed to be especially valuable in the treatment of idiopathic affections of the nervous system, dyspeptic depravities and derangements of the mucous surfaces. They are, no doubt, valuable also for rheumatic and catarrhal troubles.

There is also a chalybeate Spring about three-quarters of a mile from the main spring. Capon springs is thirty miles from Romney and about twenty-five miles from Winchester. The springs are likely to grow in favor as they become better known. Sir Henry Bulwer, who visited them in 1850 in company with Daniel Webster, declared there was no more complete bathing resort in Europe.

Ice Mountain. — This curious work of nature, which is perhaps better known than any other natural curiosity in the county, is situated about half a mile from North river mills. It consists of a ridge, shaped like an arc of an eliptic, with its concave side facing northwest. At the foot of the mountain, which is perhaps five hundred feet high, flows North river in a horseshoe, conforming to the shape of the mountain. The sides of the mountain are covered with fragments and boulders of broken sandstone which have rotted away from the cliffs above. This talus is a perhaps fifty feet thick at the mountain's base. A part of the slope is completely barren, but much of it is covered with laurel, birch and stunted pine, while at the foot there is a strip of trees of considerable height. Crowning the ridge is Raven rock, which presents a perpendicular face of two hundred feet. It is the last remaining vestige of a towering cliff that once overlooked the river. It is the foot of the mountain, however, that attracts attention and has made the place famous.

At the mountain's base, extending for about two hundred yards along the river and averaging about two rods in width, is a huge natural refrigerator. By removing the loose rocks, even in the hottest season of the year, ice can always be found. The rocks are so cold as to numb the fingers, though the mid-day sun may be shining full upon them. There is a continual expulsion of cold air which is felt perceptibly some feet from the edge of the rocks.

Many theories have been advanced to account for the formation and preservation of ice at this place. The phenomenon is most likely due to very simple causes. The open nature of the talus of course allows the free circulation of air and water in the spaces between the boulders. During the cold season ice is formed from rain and snow in the crevices of the rocks until the mountain side for many feet below the surface is a mass of ice and stone. The outer ice acts as a protection to that deeper in the rocks by sealing it up, as it were, from the outside air, while the deeper ice acts in a preserving manner by lowering the temperature. When the hot weather comes, the ice higher up on the mountain soon disappears, while that at the base is preserved, because it is less exposed to the sun on account of the trees along the base, and also on account of the facing of the mountain. Then again, its thickness is much greater. It is well known that as the season advances it becomes necessary to dig deeper in the loose rocks in order to find ice. The expulsion of cold air from the base may be accounted for by supposing that the surrounding air circulating among the rocks above the ice becomes cool and settles to the bottom. Its own gravity prevents its rising and the pressure of the atmosphere above forces it out along the face of the rocks at the lowest point. Ice mountain seems admirably adapted as a site for a dairy, or with the expenditure of considerable capital, it could be made a famous summer resort.

Candy's Castle. — In a spur of North river mountain known as Castle mountain, on the west bank of Capon river, is situated Gaudy's Castle. This imposing work of nature is named for James Caudy, an early settler in that part of the county and a noted Indian fighter. Facing the river and rising almost perpendicular at this point, is an immense cliff about four hundred and fifty feet high. The Castle proper crowns this cliff and rises solemn and barren fifty feet higher. The ascent is made from the west with the gradual slope of the mountain from that side till within seventy-five feet of the top, when one is compelled to follow along a narrow shelf of rock around the northern end of the Castle and then along its face overhanging Capon. The last fifteen or twenty feet is nearly perpendicular, and the top can only be reached by perilous climbing, clinging to the projecting edges of the rock. On top there is a space of about twenty feet,, but such a gale constantly sweeps across its barren summit that one with difficulty stands erect.

The Tea Table. — Four miles from Forks of Capon and on Capon mountain is a curiosity of some note. This is the Tea Table. A large flat rock fifteen feet wide, is supported on a column which rises fifteen feet or more in the air, and which is not more than three feet in diameter at it narrowest place. The upper surface of the table is concave and usually contains several gallons of water. This is due, however, to rainfall and not to a spring in the rock as is stated in Howe's History of Virginia.

Diamond Ridge. — This name is given to a mountain spur just west of the town of Bloomery. Large rocks are here found, the surfaces of which are studded with the most beautiful crystals, some of them an inch in diameter. From these the ridge has taken its name.

Pivot Rock. — On the land of Amos McElfresh, about one mile from Springfield, may be seen a curiosity, which of its kind is, perhaps, equal to anything in the world. This is Pivot Rock. A huge boulder, weighing hundreds of tons, is supported on a slender stem less than one-eighth the diameter of the rock above.

This rock is about twenty-five feet high above its fragile stem and nearly forty feet thick at its greatest diameter. The column on which it rests is twelve feet high and at the narrowest place not more than five feet in diameter. One is puzzled to understand how this great mass of silicious sandstone is able to rest on such small support, and it is evident that a slight earthquake shock, or a few sticks of dynamite, rightly placed, would send this mighty rock thundering and crashing down the declivity below. Just back of this goblet-shaped curiosity carved out in the long course of geological time is the cliff from which it is taken. A log from the cliff to the rock some twenty feet, served for sometime as a means of access to the top of the latter for these adventurous persons who desired to ascend it. No vegetation grows upon the boulder save a few birch bushes. Numerous camping parties from the city have visited the place and many views have been taken of it. This natural curiosity was pointed out to the author by J. T. Woodson, who lives near by, and was the first person to call public attention to it.

Hanging Rocks. — Four miles north of Romney the South branch river has cut through Mill Creek mountain forming an interesting and imposing cliff know as Hanging Rocks. This cliff, more than three hundred feet high, rises almost perpendicular from the river's edge. The rocks are arched like a bended bow forming what in geology is known as an anticline. The distance through the gap is five-eighths of a mile. The upper stratum of rocks is Monterey sandstone, while that immediately below is a cherty limestone called Lewiston chert-lentil. The limestone is made of a conglomeration of small sea shells known as brachiopods. Long before man inhabited the earth this mountain began to rise out of the sea and the Wappatomaka (South branch,) which was then flowing in its present course, began to cut through it. Slowly the mountain rose a few inches in a century perhaps, slowly the river cut its way downward until it made the mighty cliffs that now cause us to stand and wonder. This gap is only one of four in the same mountain in Hampshire county. The first is at Mechanicsburg where Mill creek cuts through, the next, proceeding northward, is the one described, two miles south of Springfield, known as Lower Hanging Rocks, is the third; while the fourth is made by the North branch of the Potomac near the junction of the two rivers.

Blue's Gap. — Going to Capon Bridge via of the Northwestern grade one passes through Blue's Gap, sixteen miles east of Romney. Here a small stream that empties into North river has cut through North river mountain, forming a pass about two hundred yards in length. The rocks in this gap are wholly of sandstone of a very fine variety. So little of cementing material is there mixed with the finely triturated grains that a piece of the rock can easily be crushed to pieces with the hand. At the eastern end of the pass is a tunnel some fifteen feet wide and twenty feet high, and extending in the mountain a considerable distance. This artificial cave was made by persons hewing out the stone and carrying it away for various purposes. It is a great favorite with the housewives round about for scouring purposes, while many farmers use it in the manufacture of whet paddles for sharpening scythes.

Caves. — There are bat few caves in this county. Caverns most frequently occur in limestone, and the fact that there is so little of this stone exposed in Hampshire accounts for the absence of them. There are a few small ones, however. There is a cave on what is known as the Milslagle farm on Timber ridge. This was explored for a short distance some years ago by William Offutt, but has since attracted little attention.

Mineral Springs. — These are quite numerous and distributed over a large area in the county. Sulphur springs are most abundant and of many varieties, locally known as red, white and black sulphur springs. Capon Springs are alkaloid lithia. There are also a few chalybeate or iron springs in different parts of the county.

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