Capon Springs Resort retains old-time ways - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Capon Springs Resort retains old-time ways

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Photo courtesy of David Sibray Photo courtesy of David Sibray
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By DAVID SIBRAY
For The State Journal

Geologists say the rain that falls  on part of the southern end of Great North Mountain takes some 60 years to find its way through the ground to Capon Springs. Filtered through sandstones laid down more than 300 million years ago, it emerges strongly alkaline, mineral-laden, and, since the mid-1700s, has been attracting visitors, most of whom are at least partly willing to believe that it possesses curative potential.

Whether or not Capon waters relieve the variety of ailments that physicians once surmised, the resort established in the shadow of Great North undisputedly provides its world-weary guests some manner of relief.

Speaking from a dais in the shade of the resort bandstand, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito joked that the knotted federal bureaucracy might be untangled by a visit.

"If we brought all of Congress here, we'd certainly be getting along better," Capito said.

"Capon speaks to all of us on a very deep level."

Capito was among the dignitaries who honored the resort's owners with the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2013 award for West Virginia Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Not ironically, Washingtonians looking to escape decorum and summer heat have long been among the primary patrons of Capon Springs. More than 6,500 guests, largely from the metropolitan east, visit between May and November when the resort is open.

Capon Springs had grown to a massive resort, comparable to The Greenbrier or The Homestead, but in 1911 a fire destroyed the Mountain House, its principal building, and the resort was practically abandoned until Lou and Virginia Austin came to the rescue and turned it into the place it is today.

Since 1932, Capon springs and its facilities have been owned and operated by the Austins, members of which have since dedicated themselves to conservatively sustaining traditions that have kept visitors returning year after year.

As has been customary since the Austins took charge, neckties are prohibited. Guests won't find televisions in any of the cottages or lodge rooms. An 11 p.m. curfew is strictly enforced. A dinner bell calls guests to the dining hall for scheduled meals served at pre-appointed tables.

Johnathan Bellingham, a spokesman and third-generation member of the Austin family, graciously accepts the praise regularly expressed by guests on a daily basis.

Bellingham attributes success to his family's dedication to providing guests a family-style vacation experience

"When the details for the award were drawn up, I realized that my name was being used, that I was being named as the recipient, and I immediately had to correct that," he said.

"The success of Capon is all about family, both my family and the families who have become part of a larger family by coming here year after year."

Many guests who return annually have adapted to a habit of returning at the same time of year and have come to regard other guests as old friends.

Jim Severns, a retired satellite engineer from Maryland, has returned to Capon Springs annually for decades and, gesturing broadly around the lobby of the Victorian main building, says he's never found any place like it.

"There is no other place like it — not that I've ever found. I don't think anything like this exists elsewhere anymore."

Severns found out about the resort after a neighbor had scrutinized his family long enough to determine they were the kind of people who could be trusted to know about it. 

"It took her a while, but then she finally told us where she was going in summer," Severns recalled, chuckling. "And I'm glad she and others have been careful not to let everyone know, or this might be far different."

The relative secrecy that the resort enjoys has helped preserve the atmosphere of gentle fun and genteel amusement that its guests prefer.

Its owners eschew advertising and rely almost wholly on word-of-mouth marketing, which helps define and limit its market, though the cavalcade of cultured diversions also assist. Night clubs and video arcades won't be found among the property's airy 19th-century buildings.

Instead, croquet, badminton, and shuffleboard are among the traditional pastimes afforded, though perennially popular golf and tennis are accommodated on two nine-hole courses and three courts. Two ping-pong houses anchor either end of the green that follows Capon Springs Run, around which gather a collection of cottages and other historic buildings.

Capon Spring water, which bubbles liberally from fountains located throughout the property, is served in carafes at every meal, is used exclusively in cooking, and, perhaps most famously, is poured into the pool and baths at the resort's newly appointed spa.

Yvonne Wilcox, a massage therapist from southern West Virginia who came to visit the spa, said she ranks the hydrotherapy center at Capon Springs among the best she'd ever visited.

"And, very frankly, I think that was the best massage I'd ever had," Wilcox said.

Capon Springs water is also available for purchase at the resort. It had been bottled through the 1920s and marketed throughout eastern metropolitan areas. Before purchasing the resort, Lou Austin had been a successful distributor of the water in Philadelphia.

Natalia Olson-Urtecho, the Mid-Atlantic regional administrator for the Small Business Administration, said during the presentation of the award that family-owned small businesses were vital to the national economy, particularly as a result of their ability to cultivate excellence.