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Old Sweet Springs

A Lewis Family Legacy

By Rody Johnson

In a beautiful valley in Monroe County just shy of the Virginia border, lies Old Sweet Springs, one of the most famous of the spring resorts. Founded by William Lewis in 1790, it still stands with its 300-foot-long brick building, spacious white columned porticoes, bath house, brick cottages, and shaded lawn. It carries with it a proud history, and generations of significance for me and my family

Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel at Sweet Springs in about 1915. Also known as the Jefferson Hotel,
the lodge was built in 1835. It is said to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Photograph courtesy of Charles Stacy.

A mile down the road from "Old Sweet," along Route 3, lives Lynn Spellman, a descendant of William Lewis. I first met Lynn the summer before last on a warm afternoon, and we sat on her front porch and talked. She is a distant cousin; we are both eighth-generation descendants of the pioneer John Lewis who explored and once owned great tracts of land west of the Alleghenies. John was William's father, but my relationship runs through William's brother Charles who was killed by Indians at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. As Lynn and I chatted about our family ties, I discovered that she is the last living Lewis in the Sweet Springs Valley.

My first memory of Sweet Springs goes back to early childhood in the 1930's. I vaguely recall a farm and a squirrel hunting expedition with my father. My family moved from Charleston to Florida at about that time, but my mother and father always talked about Old Sweet. I heard stories that my great-grandfather, Charles Cameron Lewis, "C.C., Sr.," as he was called, had once owned the place and maybe even won it in a poker game. A picture of the resort hung on the wall of our Florida home showing the hotel buildings, the spring, and a horse-drawn coach delivering guests.

Twenty years ago while visiting in nearby Lewisburg, I drove down to Old Sweet and saw elderly people meandering about the lawn. At that time, it was the Andrew Rowan Memorial Home, a state institution for the aged. During my next visit, some years later, the place lay abandoned; a wire fence surrounded the property and grass grew high around the buildings.

Today, Sweet Springs is back under private ownership for the first time in 50 years. The lawn stays mowed, and there are signs of work going on.

When I started spending the summers in Lewisburg three years ago, I decided that it was time to find out more about this enchanting place that has enamored my family for so many years.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2000 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.