The Greenbrier’s stately grandeur is unmistakable — sprawling Georgian architecture, meticulously manicured gardens, ballrooms, sweeping staircases and lavishly distinctive décor draping every surface. It is a timeless classic that maintains a high standard of elegance while catering to the expectations and creature comforts of twenty-first century travelers.
A scenic and picturesque setting, The Greenbrier resort is located in the Allegheny Mountain range that flanks the eastern seaboard. In its earliest days before the Civil War, American gentry were lured by the cool summer breezes and restorative mineral waters that bubbled up from these mountains.
Drive through the main gate today, and you’ll immediately feel whisked back to grander times. Long-honored traditions and a check list of “holiday” must-haves have shaped these 11,000 acres into a vacation paradise.
A LOOK BACK IN TIME
Dr. Robert S. Conte, Dr. Bob by those who know him, was appointed The Greenbrier’s historian in 1978. With nearly 40 years of research under his belt, a lock-box for a memory and a gift for great storytelling, you can often find him on a tour, crowded of captivated visitors.
A sit down of our own with Dr. Bob quickly revealed that over the resort’s 200-plus years, it was a prominent player in American history. We dug deeper.
Dr. Bob, we’ve heard the title passed around, but what makes The Greenbrier “America’s Resort?”
History is one of those things you can’t buy. You either have it or you don’t. It creates a whole second layer or dimension that makes a place one-of-a-kind.
As for The Greenbrier, it’s been in the hospitality business for 200 years. It was established during the Revolutionary era and has been in constant operation since.
You can see the development of our country reflected in its evolution – sports, health care, social life, transportation, even wars. The sheer extent of its longevity and relevance in American history goes way beyond anything comparable, earning its distinction as “America’s Resort.”
There are 200 years to cover, but what do you see as the pivotal events in its history?
You have to remember that its reputation as a fashionable resort was established in the 30 years before the Civil War. This region was considered wilderness at the time. But due to the mineral springs, the mountain climate and old turnpike (Route 60 today), the most powerful and influential people in society gathered here.
The railroad through town was significant. The Chesapeake & Ohio’s main line was laid directly across the street from The Greenbrier’s main gate. In 1869, the first person stepped off the train in White Sulphur Springs. This would become America’s primary form of transportation for the next 100 years.
With rail transportation at an all-time high, the C&O bought the resort in 1910. For them, it was an investment; for the resort, it provided the needed updates to maintain its attraction among high society. A new hotel was built over the old and golf, a spa and other resort amenities were added.
Along comes World War II and the Army converts the resort into a 2,000-bed hospital. After the war, the C&O purchased it back and completely refurbished it once again. They hired the famous, New York decorator, Dorothy Draper, to remodel the interior with her unique style… still evident today.
With an established relationship between the C&O and U.S. Government, it’s not surprising that a secret relocation facility was built under the hotel in 1958. With it in place, Congress had to ensure The Greenbrier’s success. After all, it would be their cover story for the next 30 years. That’s likely one reason why Interstate-64, a major highway, was built minutes from The Greenbrier. You can’t buy this kind of access.
A few years into the 21st century, and CSX was ready to sell. But finding potential buyers proved difficult. Jim Justice, an independent businessman with ties to West Virginia, understood the resort’s unique qualities and its historical significance. In 2009, he purchased The Greenbrier, infusing new resources and establishing a vision for its future.
On a less serious note, why does the hotel look like something out of “Gone with the Wind?”
The Greenbrier hotel was actually built twice. In 1913, the main hotel was constructed over the original, “Old White,” adding six stories and two-hundred-fifty rooms. In 1929, it underwent yet another expansion.
Its investors were inspired by the hotel’s Southern traditions and drew from “Old South” architecture when remodeling it. During Colonial times, the Georgian-style was popular in plantation homes and mansions.
C&O used it to their advantage. With the onset of WWI, travel abroad was limited. The C&O marketed the resort as the “European Cure in America.” Why cross the ocean when you can take the train to White Sulphur Springs, a luxurious, Southern resort.
Our short time with Dr. Bob only scratched the surface of The Greenbrier archives and the intriguing stories that surround this National Historic Landmark. For diehard history connoisseurs, interpretive tours and a comprehensive book written by Dr. Bob, The History of The Greenbrier: America's Resort, are available at the resort.