On our way to Washington, D.C. on a family vacation, we took the longer, scenic route through the mountains. We discovered a beautiful resort along the way that had both history and mystery nestled in the hills of West Virginia. The Greenbrier Hotel, located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, started from the popularity of the sulphur springs that were discovered there in 1778.
The sulphur springs were thought to bring healing. The first visitors camped out and then over time the amenities improved into a resort that has been visited by 26 Presidents.
The mystery comes into play because the hotel also housed a top secret bunker for over 30 years.
A reporter for the Washington Post leaked the story in 1992 and the Government was completely out of there by 1995. This leak now allows the public to see what our government had in place to house the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in the event of a nuclear blast. It is the size of two football fields at 112,544 sq. ft.
The location is strategic. It is located 240 miles away from Washington, D.C. which fit the 300 mile radius criteria. The bunker was also a few minutes off the expressway and close to a train stop. This also made the location accessible and well hidden. A small private air strip was also on the property but that has since been turned into a golf course. The mountains in West Virginia also made it harder to see from the air and caused it to be seen as a less likely target of national interest. Because radioactivity is believed to travel in a straight line, the mountains helped to shield the hotel from the nuclear fall out.
The hotel is beautiful and reminded me of the Grand Hotel in Michigan on Mackinac Island. I later learned that both hotels shared the same decorator.
We wandered around the foyers for a few minutes before our tour began.
We started our tour upstairs and learned a bit about the hotel and the history of several of the rooms.
Then we headed upstairs by elevator. The bunker has you going up before going down. This was one of the many ways the designer of the bunker disarmed any suspicion that the bunker even existed. The bunker had overt and covert areas. The strategy was to allow guest to use areas of the bunker designated as exhibit halls and conference rooms. Little did hotel guests know that they were inside parts of a bunker during their stay.
The busy wallpaper also cleverly hid the 18 ton Blast door. There were 4 entrances into the bunker with 3-5 ft of poured concrete around the door frames.
My husband is a HUGE history fan and this tour was fascinating to him. Our tour guide did a great job of making the intense subject matter interesting and humorous at times too. I enjoyed learning a lot of new things even though I’m not super studied on a lot of history. This 90 minute tour kept me intrigued the entire time too.
As you can imagine, security for the hotel was also of the highest importance during it’s top secret years. All Presidents and Vice-Presidents since President Eisenhower, individuals in leadership positions in Congress, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Army, and about seventy employees of The Greenbrier were cleared on the project. The “need to know” dictated clearances!
( The images inside the bunker were provided to me from the Greenbrier Hotel )
The bunker was built to be self sustaining. It had 3 diesel generators, 8 air filtration systems, a water plant, a power plant, a communication system, a decontamination room, a kitchen, a complete clinic, an incinerator, and food prep and dormitories for 1100 people to stay for up to 60 days.
(c- rations in the 1970’s)
The bunker had the perfect cover. It was conveniently built during the West Virginia Wing addition to the hotel from 1958-1961. The hotel was owned and operated by C&O rail lines which meant the government never technically owned the bunker. That made the suspicion and the paper trail harder to trace because the government already does business with the rail road companies. I found it very interesting that two of the outside entrances to the bunker stopped unwanted snoopers with a simple “Danger High Voltage” sign.
The bunker wasn’t strong enough to sustain a direct hit from a nuclear weapon but it would be safe from a hit 20-25 miles away. From a practical and strategical standpoint, a resort in the mountains of West Virginia wasn’t on the top of the Russians nuclear hit list and that was also part of the genius behind this location. The bunker also had a vault made by the Mosler safe company in Hamilton, Ohio. They built vault doors at Ft. Knox and even had a bank vault that withstood the atomic blast of Hiroshima. The bank in Hiroshima was completely destroyed but the vault was unharmed. Some of the items for the vault would include a copy of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, other important documents and weapons.
There was also a briefing room with a mural of the White House in the spring and the Capital in the fall to give telecast viewers a sense of stability if they ever saw a broadcast from the bunker. There were also two separate rooms for Congress and the House of Representatives to meet in. The room below is the Governor’s Hall for the House of Representatives to use.
The closest the bunker came to being used was during it’s first year of existence during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I highly recommend experiencing this tour for yourself. It is a rare experience to come so close to something that shares such a physical reminder of our country’s concerns of possible attacks both past and present.
The tour is for ages 10 and up. Trust me, you don’t want to bring younger ages with you. There is a lot of information and cold war history to take in and younger children would be bored and would become a huge distraction. As a parent, I’m glad I toured the bunker kid -free.
*There are other alternatives for families with younger aged children. For a fee you can use the resort’s Adventure zone or take advantage of the babysitters available for guests.
The tour is open to the public for daily tours. Make sure you check The Greenbrier Resort website for the most accurate information on tour times and prices. There are also packages for different experiences available to be booked through the hotel.
**There is now a culinary school in the former bunker kitchen that is teaching ground of Chef Richard Rosendale. He is one of 66 master chefs in the world and is the executive chef of the hotel.
*Greenbrier provided images for inside the bunker.
***The Greenbrier Resort also has a casino that is for guests only.
Thanks again to the Greenbrier Resort for hosting our tour. All opinions are my own.