May is Preservation Month and we’re recapping previous Most Endangered Historic Places listings in the nominator’s own words. Check back this month to hear updates on the Carr Greer Farmhouse, Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum, Ashland Theatre and James River.
This update is on the Warm Springs Bath Houses and Gibson Cottage courtesy of Phil Deemer of Preservation Bath, formerly known as the Friends of the Pools.
What prompted you to submit a nomination for the Most Endangered Historic Places list?
[Preservation Bath has] two places on the Endangered list—the Bath Houses at the Warm Springs Pools (2010) and the Gibson Cottage (2015). Some of Bath County’s oldest structures, they were suffering from years of neglect by their owners. We wanted to do all we could to highlight their historic importance and to focus attention on their threatened status.
What condition are the Warm Springs Bath Houses and Gibson Cottage in today?
We have learned that progress takes time and that not every “cause” is going to have a happy ending. After eight years of doing all we could to advocate for action to save the Bath Houses, the owner (the Omni Homestead) has finally put together its plan, hired architects and set a schedule for the proper historic restoration of the Pools buildings. That is the good news story.
The Gibson Cottage, however, may be lost. Vandals recently pulled down the front of the building and the roof has collapsed. It appears that its previous sad condition coupled with the damage done by the vandals have left no hope for proper restoration. There is a chance that some parts of the old cottage can be reused/retained in a reconstruction effort.
How did being included on the Most Endangered Historic Places list help amplify your preservation efforts?
Both listings were valuable. They gave us media attention and helped us build our social media network of supporters. Perhaps most importantly, they told us that others across the Commonwealth supported our efforts and cared about our historic treasures.
How has the local community supported preservation efforts for your listings?
Our POOLS stickers are on cars all over Bath County. Our bright yellow “Save the Pools” yard signs lined the highway between the hotel and the Pools in Warm Springs. Every delegation from Omni headquarters in Dallas saw the stickers and yard signs. The community’s message to them was clear—the Pools are Bath County.
While the Pools garnered national attention, the Gibson Cottage is more of a local issue. Very few people probably know that it is one of the surviving structures from the cottage row of the old (now long gone) Warm Springs Hotel. They knew the cottage instead as the home of one of Bath County’s beloved teachers, Lucille Bonner. She lived there for many years and her home was a place for kids and adults to gather. After she died and the cottage sat empty, it stood as a sad reminder that buildings need owners who care.
How can the public further support your listing today?
Like us on Facebook or email us at email@example.com to learn what is new and what you can do to help. Both the Bath Houses and the Gibson Cottage are located within the newly approved Warm Springs and West Warm Springs National Historic District. We have lots of work to do to build walking/cycling trails, install interpretative signs, etc.
What advice would you give to local organizations or individuals trying to preserve historic places in their communities?
Try to find allies and not create opponents. Don’t give up. Use the resources of Preservation Virginia and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Be patient, but not patsies. If you are going to need money to get the job done, get your 501(c)(3) application in the works early on. Enjoy the process—there are not many things to do with your time that will be more meaningful in the long run.
Your support makes programs like the Most Endangered Historic Places list possible. Be a voice for historic places and stand with Preservation Virginia as we advocate for these historic sites by making your best gift to the Annual Fund. Together, we can preserve Virginia’s shared history, promote new vitality in communities and protect the places that make Virginia unique.