Liberty University is the new owner of the historic Bedford Alum Springs Hotel.
Located in New London, the former resort dates back to the 1870s and was once a hotspot for visitors who came to drink and bathe in water from the namesake springs which were believed to have curative properties. An undated advertisement archived on the Duke University website touts the supposed benefits of the springs on ailments such as “Liver, Kidney, and Bladder Infections, Old Sores” to “Diseases Peculiar to Females” and more.
Samples of “Iron and Iodine Mass” from the springs were capsulated and sent to doctors.
Proprietors bragged up the health benefits of the springs and tried to ward off competition.
“Many worthless imitations have been put on the market with the hope of “money making” in view of the wide reputation of this celebrated Mass. Physicians are hereby warned that in order to get good results the genuine Bedford Springs Alum, Iron and Iodine Mass must be used,” claimed the advertisement available from the Duke library digital repository.
LU announced the purchase of the hotel at 713 Alum Springs Road Monday.
Liberty is considering various uses for the historic property, such as housing honors history students, opening it as a museum, or as a bed and breakfast, a nod to its original purpose.
“It looks almost like it did originally, and it’s not going to take a whole lot to restore it. I think it will be a great project for our history department,” LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. said.
Falwell said that restoration projects at other schools caught his attention. He noted work that the University of Lynchburg, formerly Lynchburg College, has done in restoring Historic Sandusky, and how The College of William & Mary has preserved the home of James Madison.
According to Randy Lichtenberger, chairman of local historic preservation group Friends of New London, Liberty purchased the property for $642,000. He added that when Friends of New London previously looked into purchasing the hotel the asking price was $1.2 million.
According to GIS data, the property was valued at $528,300 in 2015, the most recent assessment. In addition to the hotel, a pool, small cottage, and barns also are on the property.
“That was a great deal for the university,” Lichtenberger said Tuesday.
Historic records indicate the current building, built in 1913, is the third such structure on the property after fires consumed the prior two buildings. According to the Liberty news release, the hotel served as a private home for 70 years after it was decommissioned as a hotel.
Lichtenberger said he believes that the site ceased being a hotel sometimes in the 1930s.
Some springs on the property have dried up, while another is covered with underbrush, which Lichtenberger said makes it unclear if water is still flowing to a grotto where guests sat.
For LU, this marks the second recent purchase of a historic site in New London, which was founded in 1757. In 2015 Liberty purchased Mead’s Tavern, also located on Alum Springs Road. That site predates the Revolutionary War and was first opened as a tavern by William Mead in 1763, according to the website for Friends of New London.
“I think New London makes a lot of sense for Liberty to preserve and redevelop,” Falwell said. “It’s so close to Liberty and it’s a part of local history that has sort of been neglected.”
Since its purchase, LU has used Mead’s Tavern as part of its history program.
“Students in our Public History and Historic Preservation programs can get valuable hands-on experience at sites like this,” said Roger Schultz, dean of Liberty University's College of Arts & Sciences said Tuesday. “A lot of students have said how much they enjoyed working on Mead's Tavern and have even volunteered in archeological efforts after they graduated.”
Regardless of how LU uses the property, Schultz expects history students to be involved.
According to information from the Friends of New London, at its height, the town saw visitors such as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Daniel Boone, and other famous figures.
“I think New London history, in general, has kind of been lost to people,” Lichtenberger said, adding that it also served as a major military outpost during the Revolutionary War.
Staff writer Shannon Keith contributed.