A Firsthand Experience of Virginia’s Iconic, Historic Hotel
It was a particularly cold night the evening I drove to the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. It was a beautiful, scenic drive—the mountains and rural towns of Bath County acting as a precursor to heighten my anticipation. Finally, around a bend I could see the resort in the distance. It was dark, but the lawn and resort were intricately decorated with Christmas lights. The sight was overwhelming; I knew my stay would be memorable.
When I stepped into the thankfully very warm lobby, I admit, the long hall adorned with columns and fireplaces was a little intimidating. It was equal parts shopping mall, fine dining, fancy estate and hotel. It felt like something out of a movie; something I might not be fit for. The staff, with their warmth and attention, assured me otherwise.
The Homestead is, at times, a place where you may feel underdressed in your Sunday best. But, that’s all right. Because, for every luxurious amenity, there are plenty of homey touches that encourage relaxation.
Whatever your background may be, Homestead Marketing Manager Eileen Judah assures that there are several draws to make the resort a personalized experience. “It’s very flexible.”
About 10 years before the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence, the Homestead opened to the public in the rural town of Hot Springs. The resort just wrapped a full year of activities and events to celebrate its 250th anniversary.
Hot Springs is named after the earthy springs that were staples of the area, drawing the likes of political figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee.
The Homestead proudly displays its rich history—from the Jeffersonian architecture to the daily history tour. The South Parlor is surrounded by painted panels displaying imagery that tells the story of the Homestead’s many milestones, starting with its founding in 1766 to the fire of 1901 that lead to much of the current building you see now through reconstruction.
Homestead Historian Keene Byrd—a man with a dry delivery, accompanied by a surprisingly cheeky sense of humor—is an expert on the lodge’s past.
“So much history happened here in this one place,” Byrd said.
Byrd says the springs were the height of the Homestead’s activities in the 1800s, but the traditions of the time demanded men and women enjoy them separately. Different color flags were used to indicate which gender was currently soaking. According to Byrd, sometimes pranksters would switch the flag colors causing embarrassing results.
Byrd also showed me the lobby bar that had walls covered in portraits of American presidents who have visited the Homestead during their time in office. Over the span of 250 years the expansive resort has built an impactful legacy, that fire or time seem unable to mar.
“We must be doing something right,” Byrd said.
In an age of trends, technology and businesses with shrinking life spans, the milestone of 250 years—older than America—is nothing short of remarkable. And the Homestead celebrated that anniversary in a grand fashion.
“We started planning our 250th anniversary a couple of years ago.
We had a very long list of ideas,” Director of Marketing and Communications Lynn Swann said.
Those ideas manifested themselves in several unique ways, big and small. For instance, the bakers were challenged to create a different cake recipe for every day of the year. The initiative brandished the fun slogan, “A historic anniversary that truly takes the cake.” Additionally, every month had its own theme. For example, January celebrated associates (staff), while February focused on presidents.
Swann says they even used the 3 p.m. tea time as an additional opportunity to celebrate the anniversary. A guest suggested the time be changed to 2:50 p.m. Swann was amused they had not thought of it.
According to Swann, the Homestead is staffed with roughly 1,100 associates during its peak seasons, the holidays and summer.
The staff help to provide what Swann describes as “genuine southern hospitality.”
“The associates are the core of who we are,” Swann said.
Some staff members follow a legacy of family members who have served the Homestead for generations. Those Homestead mainstays—
often remembering names and even food orders—are cherished by the guests.
“Guests come back, and they form bonds with our associates.
It’s almost like a reunion of sorts,” Swann said.
Kenny Gwin is a perfect illustration of the legacies some associates share with the Homestead. He has worked at the resort for 46 years, and his family has worked at the Homestead for three generations.
Gwin, dressed in all white and covered in paint, spoke softly but passionately during our interview about the resort and its positive impact on his life. He stated that he had nothing but good to say about his workplace and home, the “old girl.”
“Me and the ‘old girl’ [have] been together a long time. She’s an old girl, but she’s a beautiful girl. She’s seen her times, she really has,” Gwin said.
It is quite the task to attempt to experience everything the Homestead has to offer. Even more challenging is remaining concise while trying to describe it all. The Homestead boasts more than 2,000 acres, 483 guest rooms, and over 30 activities for guests to discover.
When I found my room, I was awestruck. It had all the perks you’d expect at any hotel, but touched with Homestead’s unique brand of colonial warmth. The attention to detail was refreshing.
My first evening there was little time to rest, as I had a dinner reservation at Sam Snead’s Tavern—a quaint and subtle eatery nestled away from the main resort site.
The tavern honors Snead, Bath County local celebrity and the Homestead’s own golfer extraordinaire. The meal and the atmosphere were a little closer to what I’m used to, with a simple menu and rustic aesthetic you would expect in a sports bar. French onion soup, fish and chips, and one big cookie were my company for the night, as I feasted like a very modest king.
The next day, I was treated to a breakfast buffet that was almost as extensive as the resort itself. This day was particularly exciting, as I experienced a few of the Homestead’s many activities. My choices: horseback riding, a much-needed massage afterward, and a trip to the resort’s unique spa area, the aqua thermal suite. The suite houses various, unique spa treatments including aromatic steam rooms, a chilling mist room, and experiential showers that combine light, sound and temperature to create the feel of a Caribbean or Atlantic storm.
Throughout my day I enjoyed my experiences alongside other guests and families and got a chance to chat with them about what brought them to the resort. For many, the Homestead is a family tradition. Others were exploring the resort on a tour to plan a future trip. Some were simply in town on business or said they visit to see the leaves change.
“This is also sort of that grand, old-fashioned, American family vacation,” Swann said.
Whatever the reason for their stay, all agreed that the Homestead was a unique place with a special environment.
“It’s just really nostalgic in a weird way,” businessman Matt Childers said.
Before I would leave in the morning, I had one more dinner to attend at Jefferson’s Restaurant. Although the menu seemed high class, it was comprised of several meaty dishes that appealed to those unique American sensibilities. The meatballs and a braised lamb stew were delicious and so well presented that I could not help but take a few photos.
On my last morning, a particularly sunny day, I did some exploring, ate as much of that breakfast buffet as I could, and attended the Homestead’s history tour.
I was thankful for the weather because when it was time to leave, I was able to take in the amazing view of Bath County, home to a one-of-a-kind destination full of history and culture.
By Jeremy Angione