To hear William Byrd II tell it, these springs made wet dreams, allowing his exploring party’s “appetites to mend, our slumbers to sweeten, the stream of life to run cool and peaceably in veins, and if ever we dreamt of women, they were kind.” The water, Byrd said, was “what Adam drank in Paradise.”
What Adam drank in Paradise, still flowing after all these years.
Of course, you can hardly tell that almost three centuries later, the water that gurgled from this ground deep in rural Virginia gained world renown for its miraculous powers. The ailments Buffalo Springs Lithia Water could lick reads like that long list of side effects from today’s miracle drugs: “dropsical affections, visceral obstructions, protracted intermittent and remittent fevers, chronic diseases of the skin, dyspepsia, convalescence from fevers of every grade and type, female complaints, and almost every disease of the pelvic organs of both sexes.”
The Sunday Herald and Weekly National Intelligencer; Library of Congress
Back in the gilded days of the late 19th century, springs were lauded for their curative powers, whether soaking or sipping. Visits to the communities built around them were as much social as medicinal.
That’s why successive entrepreneurs operated a resort at Buffalo Springs for over a century. The resort grew to 1,600 acres, and included four hotels, 60 cottages, a golf course, a bottling plant, and associated outbuildings, all centered around the miracle water.
Visitors from across the eastern U.S. flocked to Buffalo Springs. Among them were major General Winfield Scott and D.A.L. de Santa Anna. But owners weren’t content merely to let the afflicted come to them. Bottles of Buffalo Springs Lithia Water found markets as far away as Europe.
L: Modern gazebo over Springhouse #2; R: Cistern
By the mid-20th century, though, the gig was up. The Great Depression put a dent in things, sure, but so did modern medicine. Buffalo Springs Lithia Water turned out to be not all that miraculous, especially since the dose that promised the best results–at least eight goblets a day for six to eight weeks–took a lot more commitment than simply popping a pill.
So the grand resort that lived and died around the promise of eternal health reverted to woods and cropland. A few of the old buildings have found a second life at homes and barns, but most are gone. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and maintains a small tract with a reconstructed pavilion and a ever-flowing spring that’s now a parody of itself.
But really all that’s left are the ruins of an era when water could cure anything and everything.
(Here is Buffalo Springs National Historic Site on Google Maps.)
Above: A couple of the original Buffalo Springs buildings are still around on private property. Most are not:
R: A trench on the forest floor; R: a fencepost.
Bottom: Two views of the dam that once contained the resort’s lake