Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 2, 1974 · Page 48
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June 2, 1974

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 48

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, June 2, 1974
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Page 48
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21C--June 2. 197 I Sunday Caxette-Mail Charlevt'on. W«t Virgin,a Old Fountain StillMows Clem New Owner Rebuilding Pence Springs Spa By Keith Walters One hundred years ago, little black boys raced to the fountain of water, filled their china cups, pinched a twig of mint from a clear, bubbling creek, and returned to the s i d e s o f t h e i r m a s t e r s a t Pence Springs. The men and women visiting this health resort sipped from the cups as the boys crushed mints under their noses to prevent guests f r o m s m e l l i n g w h a t t h e y w e r e drinking. It was a water which won a silver medal at the St. Louis Exposition .n 1904 with the following commendation: "This water is highly endorsed in the t r e a t m e n t of gastric irritability, a tonic for dyspepsia, disease of the bladders, kidneys, skin and liver. It has been used successfully in nervous, run-down condi-' tions." The commendation still hangs in the fountain room at Pence Springs. The hotel, which once housed the elite of the South, now accommodates women prisoners of the State of West Virginia. The elite no l o n g e r l o u n g e a t Pence Springs, but the fountain still pours water and the people still buy it. On a spring day this year a man pulled up in his station wagon, took a gallon jug to the fountain, filled it. and pinched twigs of mint from the creek, s t i l l clear and bubbling. He · deposited 15 cents in a small, ' cardboard box. Ashby Berkley, attired in a : .red cloth coat reminiscent of ; Colonial America dress and · speaking with a somewhat British accent, watched the man get back into his station wagon on the property of the Pence Springs Water Compa- -ny- "The residents around here - s t i l l come to get water to . m a k e coffee and tea. and I guess some of them still come "because of its alleged medi- - : cinal purposes," he said, as ."the s t a t i o n w a g o n p u l l e d away. ' "We don't sell it for that ; reason and we don't advertise "· it that way. We sell it as clear * spring water, which it is. - I really can't say why they keep coming. It might be cus- and tradition -- have motivat- tom or tradition." ed Berkley into establishing · the Pence Springs Water Co. Those two words -- custom as a resort -- not a plush re- sort that only the elite could afford, but a Colonial America resort i n t o which any West Virginian could retreat from Ashby Berkley stoops to fill cup from old Pence Springs fountain. modern day America. It's a step-by-step, pay-as- you-go adventure. Today, there are the spring and the plush Riverside Inn, a campground, antique shop, general store, stables and horseback riding ring. Tomorrow, in the dreams of the 33-year-old Berkley, there will be rustic camps without baths and accessible'only by packhorse, cottages, and, one n o t e of m o ' d e r n i z a t i o n . a swimming pool. "Our overall plans center on complete restoration of the springs, except for the hotel," Berkley said. "Our second m o t i v e i n d e v e l o p i n g t h e springs is to provide an adequate, clean and inexpensive recreational area for the public. "We want people to be able to come here without spending a fortune. They can fish the Greenbrier River free, take old-fashioned hayrides at a minimum cost, visit our antique shop and general store, ride horses, camp, and participate in our flea market. Simply, we want people to have fun without spending a lot of money. "My brother (Zernie E.) and I took possession of the Pence Springs Water Co. in 1970 and we began construction on the Riverside Inn and restoration of the springs early in the summer of 1972. «* "In 1970 we set five years for complete restoration of the springs, but by 1973. we had only completed two years of work. The remaining part of the work may take another five years. We don't want to go in debt financially. We want to pay as we go, which we have done so far." According to Berkley, the Pence Springs Water Co. is the oldest continuing business in Summers County. "The Water Company has been in operation since 1872 and this was a big health spa in the 1930s, somewhat similar to The Greenbrier." he said. "The first hotel set up the hollow here." he continued, pointing to an area where he hopes to put cottages. Looking toward the prison, Berkley said. "That's the second hotel. It was built in 1918 and was made a prison in the mid- 19405. I understand they have about 35 prisoners there now. but we don't see the girls much. "When we took possession of the water company, there was one building and it hadn't been painted in 30 years. There was no plumbing, no heat, no toilets and the campground was a wilderness. "The Riverside Inn was built by former West Virginia Governor Henry H a t f i e l d about 60 to 65 years ago. I'm not sure about the date be- cause it isn't recorded at the courthouse. We've tried to pin it down. "Supposedly, Gov. Hatfield gave it to his daughter. Hazel Hatfield Baldwin, as a wedding gift." The Inn stands as Berkley's greatest achievement in four years. S e r v i n g g o u r m e n t cooking, with Berkely as a graduate of the Culinary Institute at University of New Haven as chef, the Inn attracted 50.000 persons last year. Six-course d i n n e r s a r e served. One sample dinner, p r i c e d at $8.50, i n c l u d e d chicken liver pate, unclarified Dutch potato soup, hot English slaw, fish turbot with baked potato, brussel sprouts almondine and wine, brandied apricots a la mode and cheese and apples. Another sample dinner, priced at $10.95, included hot mulled cider, French oinion soup, tossed salad, a 12-ounce sirloin steak with baked potato, brussel sprouts almondine and wine, raspberry sherbet and cheese and apples. The Inn, decorated in Colonial fashion, is exquisite in red with a charming wood-burning fireplace. "We take a lot of pride in serving dinner," Berkely said. "We recite our menu although I'm sure we'll have to used printed menus because of all the business we're getting. "We want our guests to enjoy themselves because eating fine food is one of the great joys of life. I'm a chef and I would not want to disappoint anyone. We give them time to enjoy it. too (dinner requires about two hours)." Berkely points out there is no dress "restriction at the Inn although, he quipped. "Gentlemen cannot wear hats." One young lady, serving as a hostess, remarked. "It's like a night out when I work here." · Although the Inn flourishes, problems -- mostly unique to the restoration of the springs -- have been encountered by Berkley. "One," he says, "is that none of the candy companies makes penny candy any more and we need it for our general store. You can't buy bulk candy and we want children to see real penny candy just as it used to be in a general store. "Another is that we're having difficulty getting antiques to put in our antique shop, which used to be the bottling house for the water company. Pictures are the easiest items to get, but most people won't part with their souveniers. We don't want to sell them. We just want to show people part of the history of the water company. "Our biggest catastrophe occurred last winter. Our stable includes 13 horses and two colts, but we lost six horses to an epidemic. Four of them were riding horses and the other two were rare white mules. We don't know for sure what happened to them." Berkley has conquered similar problems in the past -and that's another key word. The past is what he's trying to capture for vacationing West Virginians. mrr CASE10oz - rKtt RCCOLA with Summer Special PKNK ^COOLER Phone 344-3668 SIZE22"xl3"xl3" PLANNING A TRIP FOR YOUR CLUB OR ORGANIZATION We Suggest TRAVEL BY CHARTER COACH Safe ·reliable ·convenient CALL US FOR MORE INFORMATION PARK TRANSIT, INC. 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