Capon Springs and Farms is a
modern mountain resort with roots in a bygone era.
Capon Springs and Farms is hard to describe to modern audiences. It’s not like most other resorts of today, with their conference rooms and valet parking. When describing Capon it’s better to use older reference points—it’s like that place in Dirty Dancing, people often say, or maybe a seaside retreat where you’d find the characters in a Victorian novel traveling to take the curative waters.
Capon Springs is an all-inclusive resort in the Eastern Panhandle that has been run by the same family since 1932—today the founders’ grandchildren and great grandchildren are at the helm—and in 2013 was named Family Owned Business of the Year by the West Virginia Small Business Administration. Capon was founded practically by accident. Lou and Virginia Austin, the resort’s founders, bought the run-down remnants of a 19th century resort in 1932 only because they wanted access to the freshwater springs on the property and the water they produced, which Lou Austin believed had medicinal properties—he wanted to bottle and sell it. But soon the couple started bringing friends to the property to entertain, those friends told their friends about this secret getaway at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, a trickle of guests became a steady stream, and without any marketing at all Capon became a full-fledged resort. “For years the only way you could stay here was if you had the name of someone who had already stayed here,” says Jonathan Bellingham, Lou and Virginia’s grandson and the marketing manager at Capon. That’s not true anymore but, even now, most of Capon’s guests were introduced to it that way—through a link to one of the Austins’ first guests. Most families come back year after year. “We’re into our third generation of guests, just like we’re third-generation owners,” Jonathan says.
Capon today feels much like the Capon of 50 years ago when Lou and Virginia were still running it. That’s intentional—when the same family runs a business for eight decades, there’s a lot of respect for the way things have always been done. Everyone in the family wants to keep Capon up and running in a way that would please their parents and grandparents. “Instead of being shareholders of a corporation, there’s a real sense that we’re stewards, that this special place is entrusted in our care,” Jonathan says. “It’s a real privilege and our responsibility, but there’s also this sense that we can’t let this thing end on our shift.”
Because the heritage of Capon is omnipresent, the resort has remained immune to many of the trends that define today’s vacation retreats. There isn’t a chic bistro on the property—meals are cooked by the staff and served family-style, three times a day. The operation doesn’t revolve around the nightlife scene—guests at Capon are welcome to imbibe in rooms or their porch’s cabin, but alcohol isn’t provided in the dining rooms, and guests are asked to respect an 11 p.m. curfew. Capon isn’t part of the arms race toward the newest, best technology—guest rooms don’t have telephones, televisions, or Internet access. And Capon doesn’t boast over-the-top, luxurious facilities, instead favoring more modest ones—the resort is often described as rustic, in a comfortable, appealing way that charms visitors. There are 10 guest cottages on the property, each with two to 20 guestrooms, plus two private lodging facilities for couples. “It’s really a place where you can rejuvenate and go back to the outside world feeling rested and better,” Jonathan says. “Instead of a stimulating vacation, this is a restful one.” That might be especially true for families with children, because Capon is a uniquely isolated environment where even young children can be left to their own devices. “Kids these days are so used to being watched by their parents all the time,” Jonathan says. “Here their parents just say, ‘Oh, go have fun. It’s after breakfast right now—I’ll see you after lunch.’ They can go off with their friends and explore.”
At Capon, the general idea is to give people plenty of things to do—but never rush them to do anything. There’s a golf course on the property—nine holes are regulation length, and a second nine are par three, pitch and putt style. There’s a spring-fed swimming pool. You’ll find two half-acre fishing ponds that are regularly stocked with bluegill, bass, catfish, and trout, and rowboats, bamboo fishing poles, and life vests are supplied. You can choose from three tennis courts. You can hike. There’s often a Bingo game, plus the occasional ping-pong tournament, nature walk, or basketball free-throw contest. There’s even an elaborate scavenger hunt that changes every year—it’s called the Caponchase Adventure.
One centerpiece of the Capon experience is the spa—a new addition in 2007, but one that really melds with Lou and Virginia Austin’s original vision for Capon. “We know our grandparents both would have loved to have seen a spa on the property again,” Jonathan says. “It was always part of our grandfather’s vision.” People have traveled to this property for its spring water—believed to heal sickness and relieve stress—since the early 1800s, and around 1850, the state of Virginia built a pavilion over the spring at Capon. People traveled there to bathe in the water under their doctors’ orders. That pavilion is still standing at Capon Springs, but its antiquated claw-footed bathtubs were removed in the 1930s to make way for guestrooms. In 2007 Capon built a new facility, the Hygeia Bath House and Spa, in a style reminiscent of the original springhouse, but with modern amenities. The spring-fed soaking baths are designed after the original brick-lined baths from the 1800s, but today at Capon guests can also get a massage, facial, or reflexology treatment at the spa.
“What’s neat about Capon is the fact that it’s so accessible,” Jonathan says. “Some people might be intimidated by a spa, or think it’s something too fancy for them. But at Capon everything is comfortable, so people will try it and then have this whole world opened up for them.” The comfortable atmosphere is at the core of Capon’s identity and has been since the beginning—Lou Austin was known for cutting off gentlemen’s neckties if they wore them into the dining room at dinnertime. “My grandfather said, ‘If we’re going to do this resort business we’re going to run it like our own home,’” Jonathan says. “You don’t dress up in your own home.” Over the years many men have left Capon a little sore about the loss of their neckties, but the Austins held strong on this point—and so did their children and grandchildren. That’s how Capon has preserved the cozy, familial atmosphere that has made it a desirable retreat for more than eight decades. Jonathan says, “It’s the Capon way.”
1 Main Street, Capon Springs, WV 26823 caponsprings.net