The former Yellow Sulphur Springs resort spa is nestled in a “magical hollow” between Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia, just seven minutes drive from Virginia Tech is seeking new owners.
The hollow is tucked away just 3,500 feet east of the Duncan Ford-Mazda-Lincoln dealership on old Route 460 south of Blacksburg. Probably only a small fraction of Montgomery County residents even know about the spa site, and still fewer have ever visited the place.
Today, much of the former historic spa covering about 160 acres remains, including the two-story main building, the gazebo that houses the actual spring, three rows of cottages and some smaller buildings. Gone are the carriage house, the 19th century bowling alley and a former man-made lake.
Yellow Sulphur Springs originated circa 1805 when Charles Taylor started the first resort at the location of what perhaps was an earlier inn. More land and rows of cottages were added by Armistead W. Forrest, who purchased Taylor Springs in 1842 and renamed it Yellow Sulphur Springs in 1853.
By this time, the spa had become one of the stops on the 19th century springs’ circuit in western Virginia. The circuit attracted wealthy white patrons during both the antebellum and post-Civil War periods. For these patrons, extended summer visits to the mountains provided a social whirl that both entertained them and enabled them to escape from the summer heat and humidity of the coastal plain.
Among the spring’s famous residents were Confederate Generals, Jubal Early and P. T. Beauregard, who had permanently reserved rooms at Yellow Sulphur. Edward Ruffin, who fired the opening shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, visited in 1856.
General Early served as commonwealth’s attorney in Floyd and Franklin Counties before the war, and after being pardoned in 1868, opened a law office in Lynchburg. General Beauregard, after being pardoned in 1868, enjoyed a successful career as a railroad president and later became supervisor of the Louisiana Lottery. Together, Early and Beauregard made many joint appearances over a 15-year period to promote the Louisiana lottery and presided over the lottery drawings.
Yellow Sulphur passed through various owners until it was purchased in 1926 by a group of black Roanoke business men and served the African American community until its auction sale during the Great Depression in 1929.
The 1929 buyer was Charles Crumpacker, a local farmer and businessman. When Crumpacker died in 1942, his daughter Charlsie Crumpacker Lester Linkous, inherited the spa.
In Charlsie Linkous’ will, dated Aug. 4, 1991, made four years before her death at the age of 94, she wrote “I have given 50 years restoring the place and spent a lot of money and I want it to remain an oasis of Montgomery County.”
After a period of uncertainty, the long-dormant mineral spring resort took on a new life in 1998 when it was purchased by Bernard Ross, a former restaurateur, and Victoria Taylor, a licensed acupuncturist and certified massage therapist.
For the past two decades, it has operated as the Yellow Sulphur Springs Healing Spa, with the certified massage therapist Toné Dancy joining the staff around 2011.
The actual spring water flows out of a pipe from under the gazebo at the rate of a few gallons per minute. An 1882 chemical analysis of the water posted at the gazebo tells that it contained about seven grams per gallon of dissolved minerals, mostly in the form of magnesium and calcium sulfate. Sampling the water during a recent visit revealed that it had neither detectable odor nor taste.
Today, Yellow Sulphur is looking for its next steward, perhaps to become a restored hotel and restaurant with adjacent facilities for an executive retreat. Its proximity to Virginia Tech’s burgeoning Corporate Research Center surely adds attractiveness to it.
To visit Yellow Sulphur Springs via your computer, check out the video “I am Yellow Sulphur” that was posted in January 2016 at the link http://tinyurl.com/YellowSulphur.
— Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of Southwest Virginia.