Ah, it’s that time of year for those of us with young kids: spring break! The real trick is to find a way to take an ordinary vacation opportunity and attempt to turn it into something “educational.” Even better (for me, if not my wife and kids) was finding a way to tie my family’s spring break trip to my journey through the best biographies of our US presidents.
Since I’m currently in the midst of reading several biographies of Thomas Jefferson, what better trip could I take (ignoring a sleepover at Monticello) than one to The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, VA?
The Homestead was founded in 1766 (when Thomas Jefferson was in his early 20s) and since that time has hosted 22 US presidents. Visitors feel an immense sense of history when walking its halls and lounging in its parlors. Of course, naming various rooms and lounges after its most famous presidential guests and hanging portraits of each presidential visitor helps emphasize its storied past.
Here is the scene which greeted us upon our arrival:
And here’s the scene we awoke to the next morning:
Thomas Jefferson’s journey to The Homestead took place in 1818 when he journeyed to Hot Springs (about 90 miles west of Monticello) to spend three weeks enjoying the natural warm spring waters. Jefferson apparently took to the warm springs three times a day in an effort to alleviate symptoms of his rheumatism. If the waters didn’t provide an efficacious medical treatment, the natural beauty of the Allegheny Mountains probably did.
Although The Homestead’s main campus hosts both an indoor pool and a traditional outdoor pool, the resort also maintains its famous Jefferson Pools just a few minutes north of the main campus – appropriately named in honor of our third president who enjoyed its waters.
But before we leave our intrepid adventurer, scholar, scientist, planter, lawyer, legislator, book-lover, philosopher, author and ex-president it is interesting to note that Hot Springs, VA is very near the point where Jefferson made the furthest journey *west* of his life (at a place called Falling Spring Falls). I found this ironic since he was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase…but never ventured further west than his home state of Virginia.
As I was to discover in planning this trip, the furthest west Jefferson ever travelled is not only well-marked, but is also quite breathtaking. If you ever happens to find yourself near the edge-of-nowhere just north of Covington, VA, a quick stop at Falling Springs Falls is a must. This site is mentioned in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” which he authored in 1781.