Homestead Hospitality Celebrates 250 Years

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - by Ann N. Yungmeyer

A stay at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. is one you never forget. Visiting as a child with my grandparents had me completely in awe of the majestic tower, beautiful setting, and huge indoor pool with mineral spring water. I especially remember teatime with fancy little sandwiches and playing backgammon in the great entrance hall. At dinner in the stately, columned dining room, there were perfectly sculpted butterballs on bread plates and finger bowls for messy fingers. 

I held on to my childlike wonder of the grand resort, now known as the Omni Homestead, but I only began to sense the real history of the place on my return this year. I booked an off-season mother-daughter getaway and found that 2016 is a meaningful time to visit.  

Founded in 1766, The Homestead is celebrating its milestone 250th year with an anniversary party every afternoon in the Great Hall.  A collection of memorabilia is on display, and fireside chats, summer concerts and fireworks are on the agenda. Each month features a historic theme; February honors the 23 U.S. presidents who have visited the resort. 

Considering that The Homestead is older even than the American Revolution stirred my interest, so we joined the resort’s daily history tour and browsed a wonderful collection of library photos. Native American inhabitants first discovered the mineral springs and rejuvenating waters in the area, but The Homestead story began after the French-Indian War when George Washington granted land to Captain Thomas Bullitt, who built a rustic 18-room lodge. From its humble beginnings, through ownership by several families and a devastating fire in 1901, the Homestead endured and the signature tower was built in 1929.  In recent years, the resort was under management by KSL Resorts until 2013, when The Homestead joined Omni Hotels & Resorts.  

In addition to U.S. presidents and other celebrity guests, The Homestead has welcomed generations of family vacationers for a variety of activities. Wintertime beckons with cozy fires, skiing, ice-skating and tubing; while the warmer months offer golf, tennis, hiking, fly-fishing, falconry, sporting clays, equestrian and more. Newly added and expanded attractions include a state-of-the-art Spa, fitness center, the two-acre Allegheny Springs Water Park, miniature golf, and DownTime game area. 

Omni Homestead is also a destination for weddings, honeymoons, meetings and other important occasions, but during the holiday weekend that we visited, we were in good company with mostly families and a mix of generations. The finger bowls and formalities are long gone and backgammon is less popular, but many Homestead traditions live on – from afternoon teatime and nightly movies in the 1920s theatre, to soaking in the geothermal pools. There is even the chance to soak in the warm mineral pools where Thomas Jefferson came to bathe for therapeutic relief.  

Omni Homestead Highlights
If you go, activities and options abound, but here are some not to miss: 

250th Anniversary Party in the Great Hall every day at 2:50 p.m. with a different flavored cake each day. This is not your ordinary birthday cake; assorted flavors I noted on the schedule include Carrot Cake with Mango Cream Cheese, White Cake with Nougat and Caramel Milk Chocolate, and Guinness Cake with Whiskey Ganache. Cake recipes of the week are provided. 

The Spa Experience. The new spa offers a vast menu of treatments including favorites, the Age-Management Facial and the signature 1766 Mineral Soak. Relax in the Aqua Thermal Suite’s soothing herbal cocoon and aromatic steam room and enjoy time in the Spa Garden, open year round with mineral pools, a Finnish sauna and the unique River Reflexology Walk. 

Legendary Jefferson Pools – Refresh and rejuvenate in the pools that were originally developed as a spa resort in the 1750s – a bubbling spring rich in minerals, which maintains a constant 98 degrees at the source. Located five miles from the Omni Homestead, the pools are named for Thomas Jefferson who came in 1818 and spent 23 days taking the waters for his rheumatism.  A rustic octagonal building known as the gentlemen’s pool and the adjacent ladies pool house, built in 1836, are open with limited hours for guests. 

Hiking – Shuttle to the renowned Cascades Gorge trail, a 2.5-mile hike led by a naturalist through the gorge and passing by 12 waterfalls. Or take one of the resort trails such as the Deerlick Trail, a four-mile loop starting beside the golf course and climbing along a ridge for expansive views.  

Main Dining Room – Omni Homestead offers a variety of dining options, including the contemporary Jefferson Restaurant, but be sure to experience the celebrated Main Dining Room for a step back in time with a fresh twist on classic cuisine. The enticing breakfast buffet features fresh juices, house-made butter and jams, and the famous Homestead donut.  

Ann Yungmeyer is a freelance writer in Kingsport, Tenn.

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