Not that we have living witnesses to the bathing habits of our country's chief founding father, but I will take the historians' word for it: this mossy, rectangular stone structure in the West Virginia town of Berkeley Springs was, indeed, George Washington's bathtub.
I am strolling around Berkeley Springs State Park, awaiting my appointment in its famous historic spa for a pampering treatment in a private Roman bath filled with mineral-packed spring water. At these springs, known as the most ancient watering spot in the Valley of Virginia, the 74-degree mineral water flows at 1,500 gallons per minute. A bather gets the feeling she has stumbled upon a sweet, sensual secret in this green, wooded, paw-shaped portion of West Virginia that juts out into Maryland just south of the Pennsylvania border.
But George Washington, our country's first president, discovered the warm springs more than two centuries ago. According to written town history, Thomas Lord Fairfax owned the springs, and opened them to public use in the 1740s. The 16-year-old Washington, at the time a surveyor, paid his first visit in 1748. He returned to the springs - which flow from a high sandstone ridge along the eastern slope of Cacapon Mountain - many times during the next few decades.
In the park, which functions as the heart of the town and hosts many events, you will find the structure preserved as Washington's personal bathtub outside of the Roman Bath House. The structure, marked with a sign, has a wall of rough stone bricks rising above the rectangular hollow. As I gaze into the primitive tub, now filled with water and mossy stones and leaves, I picture the carefree, simpler days when a future president of what would become the world's most powerful country could simply strip down, sit in a stone hollow and enjoy the feel of warm, running spring water. This was way before the days of indoor plumbing, porcelain tubs and packaged soaps and shampoos!
George Washington's Bathtub is one of 16 points mentioned in the Washington Heritage Trail, a National Scenic Byway that stretches for 54 miles in West Virginia's Morgan County. You can follow Washington's footsteps at other places including Spruce Pine Hollow Park, Cacapon State Park, and Throgmorton's Inn.
Water permeates activities in Berkeley Springs, which I visited recently to serve as a judge for the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting event. Yes, there really is a science behind tasting something that is generally flavorless. Members of the public can attend this intriguing event held in late February, featuring dozens of bottled and tap and sparkling waters from around the world.
But no matter the time of year you come, you must take a Roman bath at the park's spa - preferably followed by a massage with olive oil - and check out the Washingtonian history. I am certain this is the only place where you can take "visit a president's bathtub" off of your bucket list.