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White Sulfur Springs Next Stop
By Mark Hotz
Bank Note Reporter

Last month, we visited rural Covington, Virg., a town just east of the West Virginia. The journey continues as we cross into West Virginia this month, and we will visit White Sulphur Springs, the Greenbrier Resort, and Alderson.

From Covington, Nathan and I continued west on I-64 to the town of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., just a couple miles over the state line in Greenbrier County. The town currently has about 2,300 residents, and basically caters to the generally well-heeled guests who patronize the exclusive Greenbrier Resort, located just outside of town. White Sulphur Springs grew in the first half of the 19th century as the southern "Queen of the Watering Places."

The hot springs resort first became the standard summer destination for wealthy Virginia low-country residents seeking reprieve from heat, humidity, and disease. As its popularity increased and it gained status as a socially exclusive site, the spring attracted elite guests from all areas of the South.

Though White Sulphur Springs never had its own national bank, we did spot the very attractive 1920's Bank of White Sulphur Springs, a lovely period structure that currently serves as a swanky interior-design store catering to the country club set that lives near the Greenbrier Resort and its many golf courses year round. Just down the road from the old bank, we spied the main entrance to the Greenbrier Resort itself. It was not too hard to talk our way past the entrance guard, and we proceeded along the leafy drive to the main building. It was every bit as picturesque and grand as advertised.

The story of the Greenbrier Resort begins at the spring of sulphur water that remains at the center of the resort property. Since 1778, people have come to "take the waters" to restore their health.

In its first 125 years, the resort was known by the name White Sulphur Springs. By the eve of the Civil War, White Sulphur Springs' reputation as the most fashionable social resort in the Southern states was well established. This led to the 1858 addition of the first large hotel on the property, officially named the Grand Central Hotel, but known to long-time patrons as The Old White Hotel. The hotel boasted three stories of porches to catch summer breezes and ample space to promenade displaying one's fashionable attire.

While the hotel/resort issued no currency or scrip, I was able to locate a $500 bond issued by the White Sulphur Springs Co. in 1882. I have included a photo of the heading from this bond.

In 1910, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchased the historic resort property and embarked upon a major expansion. By 1913, additions included The Greenbrier Hotel (the central portion of today's hotel), a new mineral bath department (the building that includes the indoor pool) and an 18-hole golf course.

In 1914, President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson spent their Easter holiday there, and Joseph and Rose Kennedy traveled from Boston for their October honeymoon. During World War II, the Greenbrier was put to two quite different uses by the U.S. Government. The State Department leased the hotel for seven months after the U.S. entry into the war and used it to intern German, Japanese and Italian diplomatic personnel, along with their families, until they could be exchanged for American diplomats stranded overseas.

In September 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the property, converted it into a 2,000-bed hospital and renamed it Ashford General Hospital. For four years the resort served as a surgical and rehabilitation center, and 24,148 soldiers were admitted and treated at the facility.

The C&O Railway reacquired the property in 1946, expanded it, and hired famed golfer Sam Snead to serve as golf pro.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Government constructed an Emergency Relocation Center - that is, a bunker or bomb shelter - for use by the U.S. Congress in case of war. Between 1959 and 1962, the classified, underground facility was built in conjunction with an above ground addition to the hotel, the West Virginia Wing. The "secret bunker" was closed in 1995, and guests and tourists can now tour it for a fee.

We parked the car and took a stroll around the grounds and buildings. It was a splendid August day, and the setting was magnificent.

The main building was truly the height of sophisticate relaxation. Large salons lined with bookcases and furnished with comfy leather sofas gave an aura of luxury. A huge oil painting of Princess Grace of Monaco, in formal dress and wearing the sash and Grand Cross of the Monegasque Order of St. Charles, was the centerpiece of one salon and commemorated her many visits to the resort.

There were several fine restaurants and many small shops featuring the finest names in apparel and jewelry. Photographs of the staff lined one hallway, and it was amazing to see how many staff members had been continuously employed by the hotel for over 25 years - several were 40-year veterans.

The resort offers countless forms of entertainment, from the simple swimming and tennis, to horseback riding and skeet and trap shooting. I have included a photograph of yours truly standing in front of the fa�ade of the Greenbrier's main hotel. From the Greenbrier, we continued southeast along State Route 63 toward Alderson. From this point, we would no longer be anywhere near any interstate highways - southeastern West Virginia is off the beaten path, and no interstates or major US routes serve the area. In fact, we would not pick up another interstate highway until we reached Charleston, the state capital, on the long way home.

Alderson, W.Va., is located along the Greenbrier River straddling Greenbrier County and Monroe County, incorporated in 1881. Alderson was originally settled in 1777 by "Elder" John Alderson, a frontier missionary who organized the first Baptist church in the Greenbrier Valley.

Soon after becoming president, Ulysses S. Grant dined in Alderson while traveling over the newly completed C&O railroad line on his way to visit friends in Charleston, W.Va. Alderson is the location of the historic Federal Reformatory for Women, opened in 1927, the first federal prison for women.

Alderson was also home to two national banks. The First National Bank of Alderson, charter 5903, was chartered in July 1901, succeeding the Bank of Alderson. It was a large issuer for such a small town, putting out a total issue of just over $1.5 million. It survived the end of the National Currency era, and while 12 large and 10 small notes are reported, they are seldom available and most of the surviving notes are in tight hands.

Eight years later, in 1909, the Alderson National Bank received charter 9523 and opened banking competition in the town. The bank was a much smaller concern, issuing just $227,000 of notes before being closed by the receiver in 1931. Very few notes are known from this bank, making it in demand for collectors of West Virginia currency.

The First National Bank building is very well preserved, and is located in the old downtown area in the Monroe County section, just south of the Greenbrier River that bisects the town. It is a beautiful late Victorian structure built in 1898 for the Bank of Alderson. It serves as a real estate office today, and is remarkably well preserved.

The town of Alderson maintains the graceful Alderson Bridge that spans the river amid the village while vehicular traffic is carried across a newer bridge downstream of the town. Tourists taking a leisurely stroll across the river will arrive at the old Alderson National Bank building, located on the Greenbrier County section of the town.

The old structure is also well maintained, and today serves as the offices of River Bend Realty and Lewis Interiors. I have included a period photo postcard, circa 1925, showing this building and a modern view. The building is little changed, though a roof pediment with the words Alderson National Bank shown in the postcard view is now missing.

Alderson is a lovely old town located on a scenic river. As we crossed the Greenbrier River on foot to examine the Alderson National Bank building, we stopped to watch a couple teenage boys do skateboard tricks on the pedestrian bridge. The slow pace of the river and the leisurely activities of the boys gave a truly satisfactory feel to the place.

From Alderson, we headed further down State 63 toward Hinton. I hope you will look forward to continuing this sojourn next month! Readers may address questions or comments about this article or National Bank Notes in general to Mark Hotz directly by e-mail at markbhotz@aol.com.

 



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